Space probe gets 'suit' of armor

July 13, 2010 at 7:28 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 13 (UPI) -- A spacecraft bound for Jupiter will get a suit of armor to protect it from the fiercest radiation any space probe has ever encountered, NASA officials say.

The unmanned Juno space probe will face a treacherous environment with more radiation than around any other planet and will need an armored shield around its sensitive electronics, NASA said in a release Monday.

"Juno is basically an armored tank going to Jupiter," Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, said. "Without its protective shield, or radiation vault, Juno's brain would get fried on the very first pass near Jupiter."

An invisible force field filled with high-energy particles coming off Jupiter and its moons is energized by the planet's super-fast rotation, NASA said.

"For the 15 months Juno orbits Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to withstand the equivalent of more than 100 million dental X-rays," said Bill McAlpine at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "In the same way human beings need to protect their organs during an X-ray exam, we have to protect Juno's brain and heart."

The six-sided radiation shield is made of titanium. Lead, an effective shield against radiation, would be too soft to survive vibrations forces and stresses during the projected August 2011 launch, scientists decided.

While vault is not designed to completely prevent Jupiter's radiation from hitting the system, it will dramatically slow down the aging effect radiation has on electronics for the duration of the mission, scientists said.

Juno's goal is to understand the origin and evolution of the gas giant planet, making maps of the gravity, magnetic fields, and atmospheric composition of Jupiter from a unique polar orbit, NASA said.

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