How a Wearable Vest Can Protect Astronauts from Radiation in Deep Space

radiation vest

Like a wearable shield, AstroRad is designed to protect astronauts from one of the fiercest challenges of deep space: radiation.

AstroRad, which Lockheed Martin is developing in coordination with StemRad, Inc., is a wearable, radiation-shielding vest, made up of a patented hexagonal material and form fitted to protect astronauts as they travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond. While the Orion spacecraft contains an advanced storm shelter for the crew, wearing AstroRad would make it easier for astronauts to move and work — especially if a radiation storm were to last longer than a few hours.

Radiation Protection for Spaceflight

Wearable radiation shielding isn’t a new concept — it was originally designed for first responders and military members.

“We’ve taken years of experience gained through the protection of emergency rescue workers and are currently adapting our designs for human deep space exploration,” says Oren Milstein, StemRad’s co-founder and CEO. “Creating radiation shielding equipment that could accompany and help enable the first crewed mission to Mars is incredibly exciting!”

Adapting this technology for long-duration human spaceflight makes perfect sense because:

  • AstroRad can provide astronauts with protected mobility when traveling between different spacecraft elements of the Gateway (or other future space architecture).
  •  The vest design protects the most susceptible vital organs — like bone marrow, reproductive organs and lungs — from the harmful effects of radiation.
  • Wearable vests take up minimal space. This is important, since efficient use of mass is critical for long-duration human spaceflight missions.

AstroRad Test Flights

Beginning November 2019, four female astronauts on the International Space Station will perform ergonomic tests of the vest while in zero gravity. They’ll be checking to ensure the AstroRad vest gives them the freedom of movement and range of motion they need to do their jobs comfortably.

During the upcoming Artemis 1 flight to the Moon, two torso dummies will be tested to see whether AstroRad will really work for space travel. The dummies, which are provided by the German Space Agency (DLR) and mimic tissue density and anatomy of real human beings, will ride along in Orion. One dummy will wear an AstroRad vest, while the second will serve as a control (aka no vest). Both dummies will have passive radiation sensors at various organ locations like the lungs and stomach.

An International Collaboration

The AstroRad joint effort has the backing of a bilateral research committee and is supported by grants from Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of Florida, MATIMOP, the executive agency of the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy of Israel, and the Israel Space Agency (ISA).

“The development of this vest has brought together an international community of radiation experts attempting to solve one of the biggest challenges of long-duration human space exploration,” said Dave Murrow, Lockheed Martin Space business development manager. “This collaboration underscores the global nature of exploring space.”

deep space