NASA is experimenting with 3D printed radiation shielding and radiation sensors known as Radiation Environment Sensors (REMs) to determine the effects and levels of radiation in space on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission in April of 2016. The 3D printed radiation shielding is currently being used at thicknesses of 1.1mm but is expected to scale up to 10mm in thickness.
NASA is creating the radiation shielding using the MadeInSpace 3D printer in space and testing various thicknesses in order to evaluate effectiveness for future voyages into deep space. Bigelow Aerospace attached the BEAM module to the ISS one year ago in order to prove the efficiency of the softer material in space.
What can this new radiation shielding be applied to?
Radiation shielding is normally applied to every vehicle and satellite that is placed into orbit or space. Having the capability to 3D print radiation shielding in orbit will allow for ships to be retrofitted or to increase their protection before embarking on a journey into deep space.
The shielding is being tested at various thicknesses, enabling vessels of variable sizes and requirements to produce shielding according to the requirements of their cargo or passenger status.
What is NASA studying with this material?
NASA is studying the ability of 3D printed materials and BEAM constituent components to defend against radiation and space debris. NASA is also studying the ability of spacecraft to adapt to higher levels of radiation in short time-periods. If either tests are successful, we may begin to see softer space vehicles and 3D printed radiation shielding that can be applied in space on an as-needed basis.
How will this impact future developments in radiation shielding?
With the ability of 3D printing to use multiple “ink” types, this could enable 3D printing of radiations shielding and other increasingly vital components for hardening space vehicles against radiation to protect their cargo. It can also enable soft spacecraft to be placed into orbit and then coated in radiation shielding that is produced onboard the vessel.
NASA is working to develop a reliable way to increase radiation protection as needed in order to maximize survivability on long deep space ventures. This test is on of many to come that will serve as a proof of concept for adaptable radiation shielding that can be deployed after launching a vehicle into the atmosphere.
The testing is occurring on the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM module that was attached to the ISS in April of 2016 via a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission.
The Bigelow BEAM module has passed initial tests regarding its resilience against space debris, so now NASA is 3D printing and testing radiation shielding for use in shielding it against cosmic radiation. If this test goes as well, there are tests lined up to create radiation shields as thick as 10 times that being used in this test.