back to article Superconductor forcefield to shield re-entering spacecraft?

Space boffins have hatched a plan to test their radical new superconductor magnet forcefield re-entry heatshield technology by firing it into space from a Russian submarine. Flight International reported on the scheme yesterday, describing cooperative efforts by German space agency DLR (Deutschen Zentrums für Luft- und …


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  1. andrew mulcock

    how hot is plasma

    Just wondered how hot the friction / air has to get to become plasma and thus conductive for the EM shield to work ?

    I guess up till that temperature, then normal heat shielding has to be employed .

  2. Yorkshirepudding

    nucwear wessels?

    Shields up Keptin?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    As it Says

    Anything can happen in the next half hour

  4. Captain TickTock

    Fire and Ice

    So at what temperature do these superconducting magnets work?

    Isn't liquid nitrogen normally involved...? If the shield starts failing a little bit and temperatures rise, won't it fail catastrophically?

    So all this is supposed to be lighter and less troublesome than pesky passive heat shields?

    I'll keep my gold foil pants on if it's all the same to you...

  5. Ian Michael Gumby

    Why not put a call in to NASA?

    Wouldn't be cheaper and easier to call NASA and to pull one of their SR-71 Blackbirds out of mothballs and put back in to service?

    While its not a re-entry vehicle, wouldn't is also suffer from some of the same problems flying at Mach 3?? (I don't know the top speed or altitude)

    Or borrow an F16 or one of the other 'super jet fighters' to fly really high in to the atmosphere and then launch a smaller rocket in to a shallow orbit for testing?

    Yeah I know, I'm a US guy, but surely the EU and or Israel and other countries have similar capabilities without going all Polaris on us.

    1. Bumpy Cat

      Jet aircraft just don't have what it takes

      Ballistic missiles go high, very very high - far higher than even the magnificent SR71 Blackbird. Also, the size of the test object is far larger than any fighter can carry - a big plane like a B52 might manage the weight, but it would be aerodynamically hell.

      No, it has to be tested by a ballistic missile - and why not go to a country with many spare ballistic missiles? Russia is probably cheaper than the US, too.

    2. Joe Cooper


      Ballistic missiles are totally the way to go.

      The Russian Navy offers ballistic missile launches at a cut rate subsidized by their training budget. Payloads can be launched for as little as $500 a kilo! Or pound, I can't remember. Regardless, its cheap.

      Using ballistic missiles for space launch is an old idea. American Gemini astronauts used to ride on Titan II ICBMs -- the same missile they used in Star Trek First Contact.

      American ballistic missiles are regularly sold surpluss to companies who convert them into launch vehicles. Orbital Sciences does this.

  6. Jim Carter

    Doesn't the tech already (sort of) exist?

    I seem to recall some kind of magnetic based shielding technology which was mooted for use on future moon based missions...

    1. MarkP

      @ Jim

      Yes, but this was not for re-entry but as protection from the solar wind. Since around the moon you are outside the earth's protective magnetosphere.

  7. Charles 9

    @andrew mulcock

    For the record, the ceramic heat shields on the US Space Shuttle are designed to handle temperatures approaching 2000 degrees Celsius. Now, communication between earth and the ship gets squelched during the initial re-entry due to a phenomenon they call "ionization blackout." As I recall, when a gas ionizes due to heat, it is essentially becoming a plasma, so this sounds to me like they're hitting the butter zone, and the gas is sufficiently ionized for an EM shield to start working. I give credit to these boffins for at least saying essentially, "It sounds promising, but to know better, it's time for an experiment." A test flight and some hard data will at least tell us if this plan is more than just a load of hot air.

  8. Danny 14

    will work better

    I think the idea is not to create different heat shieleding but in addition to conventional shielding - afterall you still need shielding up until plasma point. At which you could pretty much change your angle of descent to something more favourable.

    If this shielding works then the possibilities of better windows of re-entry would exists.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re-entry angle

      And then either skip off the atmosphere or make a big crater in the ground because you didn't slow down enough?

      The angle of re-entry isn't to do with how hot you get during re-entry.

  9. benzaholic

    The REAL fun arrives...

    ... when they start manipulating the generated magnetic fields as a means of controlling the direction of the reentry craft.

    Flames cuz that's obviously what the plasma looks like to outside observers.

  10. Ammaross Danan

    @Ian Michael Gumby

    @Ian Michael Gumby and other "why doesn't NASA..."

    The article clearly states that it's the EU Space Agency, not NASA, that wants to test their tech. Hence the Russian missile and not a US aircraft (BB or F16, etc).

    It, of course, would make no nationalistic sense to have a global space agency working in cohorts with each other for the betterment of space exploration...

    Mine's the one with the "Federation" communicator on the left breast.

  11. Shadowslayer19

    @Ammaross Danan

    That or it could be called SkyNet, you know, to make all of the people have confidence in them.

  12. Bobster

    Shields Up?

    Finally, something to counter those freakin' lasers off those freakin' sharks...

  13. pedrodude

    The real question...

    Will it dissipate a phaser beam? Or a direct hit by photon torpedo?

    Honestly people, how are we ever going to conquer the galaxy without asking these basic questions?!

    On a slightly more serious note, what happens if there's a power failure? BBQ astronaut presumably...

  14. Captain TickTock


    We are already way ahead of you.

  15. Secretgeek

    " Raumfahrt"


    Anyone at all?

    I'm such a child.

    On a more serious note if the only (I say only like it's not significant) technical problems they've got is how to fit the kit into the testbed then they've already done a vast amount.

    I am assuming the forcefield tech itself actually works of course. I look forward to the launch.

    Well done, scf-fi realising, force field creating type science bods!

  16. Filippo Silver badge

    Re: Fire and Ice

    Oh, yeah. You could have the scene where the crewmember shouts "SHIELDS ARE FAILING!" and then everything explodes. Perhaps not good for the crew, but it gets points for being dramatically appropriate.

    On a more serious note, this is interesting research. I guess a working magnetic shield would also be quite useful to keep charged particles away during long space trips, helping protect the crew from long-term exposure to radiation.

  17. Shinobi87

    Mr Warf.......

    ...............set shields to full

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    How hot is not the question

    Temperature is a measure of kinetic energy. Researchers talk the enthalpy of the flow or the energy involved (WM^-2 or BTU/ft^2/Sec depending on what side of the Atlantic you happen to be on).

    At high altitude pressure is literatly in molecules per ^m-3 rather than any conventional pressure unit. You get a "temperature" for dissocated air molecules and another for electrons. A typical model requires 11 seperate species to describe the airflow. Atoms can have temepartures of 10000K, while electrons have 15000k. Note leV=11605.4 K so that's less than 1eV of kinetic energy for electrons. It's like a match dropped on your hand. Lots of tempearture but little actual energy.

    The question is how much energy gets dumped into the capsule *before* the flow is ionised enough for the magnets to deflect it. Should be interesting to find out.

  19. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

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  20. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The reason why they use Russian missiles...

    The reason they use russian missiles is that the Russians have huge stockpiles which there still trying to get rid of to meet decommisioning targets and so there cheap as chips to launch with and because the russians build good rockets they have great reliability.

    Cheap, reliable, reducing the worlds stock of surplus military rockets, and performing great science... what more can you ask for?

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