CORDIS - EU research results

MHD Enhanced Entry System for Space Transportation

Project description

A superconducting magnet could help shield the next generation of spacecraft

When spacecraft enter the atmosphere of another planet or re-enter the earth's atmosphere, they are travelling at tremendous speeds. This heats the air around the spacecraft to temperatures so high that chemical bonds of gases in the air are broken, producing plasma, a gas of electrically charged particles, that surrounds the spacecraft. Heat shields are thus critical to the protection of people and equipment. Conventional heat shields rely on ablation, or the heating of materials covering the aircraft which carry away heat with them as they come off. The idea of using superconducting magnets to alter the flow of the high-temperature ionised gas produced on re-entry has been around for a couple of decades but has so far remained the stuff of science fiction. The EU-funded MEESST project is on a mission to make it a reality, with active magnetic shielding for atmospheric entry supported by state-of-the-art simulations that open the door to terrestrial and other space applications as well.


(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.

Call for proposal


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Net EU contribution
€ 586 450,00
3000 Leuven

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 586 450,00

Participants (9)