Satellites do not wear spacesuits. How do we protect them from space radiation?

The Earth’s atmosphere protects humans from dangerous space radiation. Astronauts orbiting the Earth, without the benefit of its atmosphere’s protection, wear spacesuits. What about protecting space equipment that was designed and built on Earth, once it is in orbit?

The Australian National University (ANU) Institute for Space Director, Prof Anna Moore, asks our colleagues Dr Ian Carter and Dr Ed Simpson from the Department of Nuclear Physics how we make sure the equipment we send into space successfully operates despite harmful space radiation. As part of the National Space Test Facility, they test space equipment using the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility.


Dr Ian Carter explains why space testing is critical to mission success

Radiation is a critical consideration in spaceflight. High energy ions can pose serious risks to human health and can damage electronics, causing catastrophic failures in satellites and other space missions which humans rely on every day.

Ion accelerators, such as the ANU Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility, can be used to understand radio-biological effects of radiation and to test satellite components. This on-the-ground testing helps mitigate the effects of radiation in space and is an integral part of successful space missions.

The Heavy Ion Accelerator Facility (HIAF) is based the ANU Research School of Physics, and it operates Australia’s highest energy ion accelerator which is capable of delivering ion beams of nearly any element. Its operations are also supported by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). This unique facility can test Australian satellites and other space components so that space equipment designers and builders know what materials can withstand the radiation of space. Even failed tests are successful because they inform how to make space missions safer and more durable.



Dr Ed Simpson explains how testing impacts CubeSats

Testing components for space radiation durability has a massive impact across the Australian space industry, especially when it comes to testing of CubeSats. Originally built to provide more affordable access to space, CubeSats have proven very popular because they reduce the cost of critical research.

CubeSats are particularly vulnerable to radiation damage because these miniaturised satellites lack dedicated shielding and use off-the-shelf components. To ensure their success, they need space radiation testing to ensure robust, reliable, space-qualified missions.

At the National Space Test Facility, we test satellites and other space mission components with HIAF. Our team of researchers has a unique cluster of expertise relevant to space radiation, including nuclear reactions, ion induced modification of materials, and detection of ionising radiation. Having the best accelerator, a diverse range of world-leading experts, and the support of the National Space Test Facility, HIAF offers a unique capability for space radiation testing to ultimately support the growth of the Australian space industry over the coming decade.




Kathleen Sweetapple
Contact phone:02 6125 0065