In DepthSpace Physics

U.S. military tests radiation belt cleanup in space

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Science  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6473, pp. 9-10
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6473.9

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Summary

The U.S. military thought it had cleared the decks when, on 9 July 1962, it heaved a 1.4-megaton nuclear bomb some 400 kilometers into space: Orbiting satellites were safely out of range of the blast. But in the months that followed the test, called Starfish Prime, satellites began to wink out one by one. There was an unexpected aftereffect: High-energy electrons, shed by radioactive debris and trapped by Earth's magnetic field, were fritzing out the satellites' electronics and solar panels. Now, defense scientists are trying to devise a cure. Three space experiments—one now in orbit and two being readied for launch in 2021—aim to gather data on how to drain high-energy electrons trapped by Earth's magnetic field in radiation belts encircling the planet.

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