The GSI accelerator facilities offer world-wide unique possibilities for the simulation of cosmic radiation, in particular the galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), which – besides the most abundant protons and helium nuclei – also includes heavier nuclei up to the actinides. The accelerators UNILAC and SIS-18 deliver ion beams of high quality of many chemical elements (including iron which plays an important role) in the energy range of 1 MeV to 1 GeV per nucleon. Light ions (up to neon) can be accelerated up to 2 GeV per nucleon. This spectrum covers an interesting part of the GCR with the maximum particle fluence at several 100 MeV per nucleon.
The simulation of cosmic radiation in the accelerator laboratory is an important tool for space research and space flight.
Outside the protective magnetic field of the earth astronauts in space are fully exposed to solar and cosmic radiation. Genetic alterations and cancer may already be induced by low levels of radiation. Because of their high local energy deposition heavy nuclei contribute significantly to the radiation risk. Therefore, systematic investigations of radiation damage and risk assessment are indispensable for long-term space missions.
Tests and calibrations of space flight instruments
The High-energy irradiation facility Cave A offers excellent conditions for testing and calibrating detectors designed for the exploration of cosmic radiation in space. Important parameters such as mass- and charge resolution or isotope separation capability of spectrometers can be determined and the performance of data analysis software can be verified under realistic conditions on ground.
Detector systems of the space missions MAGPIE, SOHO, ACE, ALTEA and others were tested and calibrated with high-energy ion beams at GSI.
Radiation hardness of electronic components
In space complex electronic devices such as microprocessors, storage-chips or other large-scale integrated systems are exposed to cosmic radiation. This may result in malfunction or even loss of data. For example, storage chips for the European Space Agency (ESA), microprocessors (IBM) and other electronic components of satellite missions and astrophysical experiments (e.g. the AMS-Experiment or the Italian ALTEA-project) on board of the International Space Station (ISS) were successfully tested at the irradiation facility Cave A at GSI.