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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

Colombian Engineer Protects New NASA Spacecraft from Cosmic Radiation

LOS ANGELES – Luz Maria Martinez, a Colombian engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), optimizes spacecraft by protecting them against cosmic radiation and so will shield the sensitive components of the space probe that will study Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

The Europa Clipper space mission of NASA JPL, whose launch is programmed for 2025 and its arrival at least five years later, is the project on which specialists at the lab in Pasadena, California, are focusing their efforts to keep cosmic rays from causing spaceship damage in outer space.

“Outer space is full of energy particles that on a spacecraft could mess up electronic circuits, erase computer memory, turn switches off and on or cause other errors harmful to the mission,” the NASA JPL space environments technologist told EFE.

“So from my computer I work interactively with design engineers on spacecraft to protect them better from such hostile environments and so make sure they survive,” she said at her base in Pasadena.

The Europa Clipper mission will orbit Jupiter and will be programmed to go around the “frozen moon” 45 times at a low altitude in order to complete nine science missions, such as making a detailed map, learning Europa’s surface composition, locating its mineral and organic components, and operating ice-penetrating radar to discover if underneath the freeze there is liquid water, plus other research endeavors.

Scientists want to investigate whether Europa has elementary life forms and this ship will expand their knowledge about this moon that was first studied by the Galileo space probe in 1995.

To understand the forces that could affect the spacecraft as it nears Europa, the engineer Martinez reviewed the report sent by the Juno probe, in a polar orbit around Jupiter since July 2016, to “learn about Europa’s atmosphere and magnetic field,” she said.

“We have computer programs to simulate everything,” the engineer said about studying what it takes for a spacecraft to withstand the galactic environment in order to have adequate protection, and so enable her to recommend specific materials – whether, for example, “it’s only necessary to use aluminum or a stronger metal like titanium.”

Besides, Martinez said, in order to create greater protection for the “brain” of the spaceship they will use a kind of “strongbox” against cosmic radiation.

The scientist, 30, was born in Medellin and since she was a little girl her parents instilled in her a longing to know more about outer space with visits to the planetarium in her hometown, where she “observed the planets through telescopes” and got inspired by “astronomy courses.”

 

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