Space Radiation in the Field of Aviation

by | Oct 21, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

The space radiation environment not only poses a serious risk to spacecrafts and human space exploration, but also to the field of aviation. Understanding the interactions of the space radiation environment is important for enhancing the experience of future space explorers.

With our space environment rife with cosmic radiation from the various galactic events, Earth is also constantly being bombarded by high-energy radiation particles all the time. Even people on the ground absorb some radiation (at sea level one receives the radiation level equivalent of one chest x-ray every 10 days or so). For the most part, we are protected by our planet’s magnetosphere. But radiation particles that still make it through the Earth’s magnetic shield collide with atoms, such as nitrogen and oxygen, to create high-energy showers of ionised “secondary particles”. Since the particles would have hit with more and more atoms in the atmosphere on their way down, radiation dose on the ground can be deemed much safer than in higher altitudes where the air is thinner.

Source: NASA

As a matter of fact, in the skies, radiation dose levels can increase 10-fold or more. And while that is the level of typical radiation exposure in the skies, solar activities can multiply the radiation levels a hundredfold! There are a multitude of factors affecting radiation doses during flights, namely: 

  • altitude (the higher the flight is, the greater the dose) 
  • latitude (the closer the flight is to the poles, the greater the dose)
  • duration (the longer the flight duration, the greater the dose)

This kind of exposure can pose a risk to pilots, their passengers and in-flight electronics and technologies. Unfortunately, airlines prefer taking the polar route whenever possible to cut down on travelling time and fuel consumption. The airlines can save $35,000 to $40,000 per flight in fuel costs alone when flying over the poles. 

However, while this can be a cost saving technique, altering the route to avoid polar radiation storms can cost up to $100,000. After all, it is not wise for pilots to fly through radiation storms that could mean high risk for them, their passengers and the avionics. After the 2003 Halloween storms, several airlines began executing mitigation measures, such as rerouting and lowering flight altitudes, in response to warnings on the NOAA S-scale regarding solar radiation storms. 

The incidents of Halloween Storms have shifted the interest of airlines and aircraft operators towards timely and accurate information regarding drastic increases in radiation intensity at aviation altitudes to alleviate potential hazardous radiation effects on humans and electronics. But since rerouting can incur high costs, accurate information about the time, duration and radiation levels (especially during space weather phenomena) involved will allow pilots to plan their course carefully while reducing the exposure to radiation.

Dµst is a space management network that also doubles up as a space weather warning system. The Dµst Space Weather Service consists of two main elements:

  • an OpenAPI for easy integration and management of alarms, alerts and planning
  • and a Persistent Monitor that issues real-time notifications (alerts, warnings and critical information) of current space weather events in the form