Material damage testing with broadband radiation from plasma accelerators could grow into a major application of laser-driven and beam-driven plasma accelerators alike. The experimental results of two ESA-funded seed projects are presented and prospects and challenges of bringing the space radiation and material testing and plasma accelerator communities together are discussed.
The spectral flux of space-borne electrons, protons and ions as present for example in the radiation belts is characteristically broadband. This is an important defining feature which is hardly accessible by conventional radiation sources and their typical intrinsic narrow bandwidth -- but an inherent regime of plasma accelerators. Using laser plasma-accelerators, we demonstrate spectral reproduction of relativistic, broadband radiation belt flux in the laboratory, and use this man-made space radiation to test the radiation hardness of space electronics. Such close mimicking of space radiation in the lab builds on the inherent ability of laser-plasma-accelerators to directly produce broadband Maxwellian-type particle flux, akin to conditions in space. This is a powerful tool for testing, and in combination with the established sources, utilisation of the growing number of ever more potent laser-plasma accelerator facilities worldwide as complementary space radiation sources can help alleviate the shortage of available beamtime, and may allow for development of advanced test procedures, paving the way towards higher reliability of space missions and with the potential for significant cost savings. Next to electronics testing, significant applications are also in space radiobiology exploration, including space tourism and weather, propellant storability testing and more widely for material damage studies.
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