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The University of Southampton
Engineering

Research project: MHD Enhanced Entry System for Space Transportation (MEESST)

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This project aims to fill the gap between science and technology towards the development of a first demonstrator implementing active magnetic shielding. The success of this project can introduce a paradigm shift in aerospace science and technology by turning active magnetic shielding (i.e. a futuristic concept traditionally associated to science fiction) into reality and potentially into the spotlight, not just for space travel but also for future hypersonic transportation systems, radar imaging, surveillance and GPS navigation, all requiring accurate knowledge of EM signal propagation characteristics through plasmas.

(Re-)entry into planetary atmospheres represents one of the most critical phases of space missions, involving high thermal loads on the vehicle surface and radio communication blackout which can last for minutes. As demonstrated with previous scientific studies, magneto-hydrodynamics (MHD) provides a framework for tackling both issues: high enough electromagnetic (EM) fields can be used to reduce heat fluxes and create a magnetic windowing able to mitigate the blackout. However, the translation of those ideas into an operational radically-new science-enabled technology to be used onboard spacecrafts has not been achieved yet.

MEESST aims at filling the gap between science and technology towards the development of a first demonstrator implementing active magnetic shielding. To this end, a disruptive device consisting of a compact cryostat integrating a superconductive magnet able to generate sufficiently strong magnetic fields will be designed, manufactured, tested in on-ground experimental plasma facilities and via numerical simulations relying upon improved models. The latter will take into account, for the first time, all relevant EM-plasma interactions, thermochemical nonequilibrium and radiation effects for both Earth and Mars atmospheres.

As a result, a radically-new science-enabled proof-of-concept technology will be developed and deployed, together with enhanced experimental techniques and modelling tools which can contribute to push European space technology one step ahead the competition, worldwide. The success of MEESST can introduce a paradigm shift in aerospace science and technology by turning active magnetic shielding (i.e. a futuristic concept traditionally associated to science fiction) into reality and potentially into the spotlight, not just for space travel but also for future hypersonic transportation systems, radar imaging, surveillance and GPS navigation, all requiring accurate knowledge of EM signal propagation characteristics through plasmas.

Associated research themes

Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering

Related research groups

Astronautics
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