Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Why we need active experiments in space

Active space-based experiments began early in the space age, when little was known about the near-Earth environment, and focused on very fundamental aspects of the space environment and its interaction with spacecraft.
August 31, 2018
diagram of proposed connex missions showing earth and a spacecraft with blue lines showing artificial auroral displays to help researchers better understand the near-Earth space environment.

A diagram of the proposed CONNEX mission, which would generate artificial auroral displays to help researchers better understand the near-Earth space environment.CREDIT: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab

Why We Need Active Experiments in Space (Op-Ed)

by Gian Luca Delzanno

Fifty-six years ago, a nuclear device called Starfish Prime was detonated 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth. With a yield of approximately 1.4 megatons, the explosion released massive amounts of energetic fission debris into space. One of the outcomes was the creation of an artificial radiation belt, much more intense than that typical of the natural Van Allen belts, which lasted for years.

Radiation is not only dangerous to humans, it is dangerous to our space infrastructure as well. Within a few months of the test, seven satellites in orbit stopped working, including a big communications satellite, Telstar 1, launched a day after the Starfish Prime detonation. Higher-than-expected radiation levels hammering the solar panels and satellite electronics were to blame.

This story first appeared in Space.com.