In partnership with CNES (the French Space Agency), the Hubert Curien laboratory and CERN, iXblue has developed a fiber-optic dosimeter that will be tested for the first time on board the International Space Station (ISS). This device has been designed to measure the radiation dose exposure in the station. This is a major challenge to ensure astronauts and equipment's protection against ionizing radiation in space.
Image : © CNES/DE PRADA Thierry, 2021
Called LUMINA, this project was developed under the CNES leadership as part of the Alpha mission, conducted by ESA. The dosimeter, incorporating two fiber-optic coils several kilometers long, will be put in operation by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on board the ISS. "iXblue fibers have been used for more than 2 decades in our fiber-optic gyroscopes in satellites, and we noticed that these fibers darken under the effect of radiation, hence the idea of using the properties of these radiosensitive fibers to measure the level of ionizing radiation inside the space station," explains Thierry Robin, R&D Director of iXblue's fiber division.
This technological demonstrator, based on radiosensitive fibers specifically designed for the mission and manufactured at iXblue's site in Lannion Britanny, was integrated by iXblue's space teams in Saint-Germain-en Laye. It should enable data collection for several years, which will be regularly sent back to Earth for analysis. Indeed, the fiber darkening decreases the output light signal and it is therefore possible to correlate the optical loss with the radiation dose received, even at very low levels. This dosimeter could therefore be very useful for measuring the exposure of astronauts on the ISS, but also for future long-distance space missions to Mars to alert astronauts in the event of a solar storm and thus to protect them.
"The selection of this experiment by CNES for the Alpha mission is a great recognition of the work done for many years with our partners on fibers in harsh environments. We are extremely proud to be part of this mission and look forward to receiving the first results," concludes Thierry Robin.