General Lab Information

Towards Safer Spaceflight

A joint Brookhaven Lab/NASA facility to study the effects of cosmic radiation

Modern astronauts are spending ever greater amounts of time in space, exposed to the little-understood effects of cosmic radiation. NASA and Brookhaven National Lab have established a joint lab—the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL)—on the Brookhaven campus to study the possible effects of this exposure.

Why Space Radiation Matters

As the role of humans in space evolves, so does the need to study space radiation. Since the 1990s, astronauts routinely leave the protection of Earth's atmosphere, spending six or more months in space where they are exposed to ionizing particle radiation that is vastly different to the electromagnetic radiation at the surface. This stream of particles passing through the body damages living cells, including DNA, that may inhibit cell reproduction and repair. Primary concerns for astronaut health include cancer and central nervous system effects1.

More recently, increased space travel and satellite production has created a need to understand the effect of ionizing particles on electronic devices. Space-faring hardware must recover quickly from effects caused by a heavy ion or proton traveling through a device to ensure proper function and mission success. Characterizing the isolated risk from space radiation in both the biological and electronic context facilitates safer space travel.

1Simonsen et al. (2020) NASA's galactic cosmic ray simulator. PLoS Biol 18(5): e3000669.

What We Do

The research conducted at NSRL seeks to increase the safety of space exploration through radiobiology and electronic device studies. The NSRL uses beams of heavy ions extracted from Brookhaven's Booster accelerator to simulate the high energy cosmic rays found in space. NSRL features state-of-the-art specimen preparation resources, its own beam line dedicated to radiobiology research and space technology studies. Other experiments use industrial materials as samples, studying their suitability for space suits and spacecraft shielding.

Scientists from around the world come to NSRL to perform their work using the unique capabilities of Brookhaven's accelerator facility. NSRL is the only place designed and built to study a space radiation environment right here on Earth's surface.