Survivability of metallic shields for relativistic spacecraft

Jon Drobny, Alexander N. Cohen, Davide Curreli, Philip Lubin, Maria G. Pelizzo, Maxim Umansky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Directed energy propulsion of a spacecraft, such as that proposed by Breakthrough Starshot and NASA Starlight, necessarily exposes the spacecraft to MeV-energy collisions with particles in the interstellar medium (ISM). As a result, the spacecraft must be designed to be resilient to those collisions and the damaging effects they can have over long-duration interstellar missions. In this work, the effect of cumulative ISM gas implantation along the leading edge cross section of a standard relativistic spacecraft is discussed. Expected effects include bubble formation, blistering, and exfoliation due to slowly diffusing gas atoms implanted deep below the surface. As predicted by Bethe-Bloch stopping and numerical binary collision approximation (BCA) simulations, hydrogen and helium implant at similar depths, producing a mixed hydrogen-helium-material system similar to those observed in plasma-facing components (PFCs) in fusion reactors. A model of the stress exerted by the local gas concentration below the surface of a thin spacecraft and mission failure scenarios which require mitigation strategies are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-456
Number of pages11
JournalJBIS - Journal of the British Interplanetary Society
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Damage
  • ISM
  • Implantation
  • Interstellar
  • Spacecraft
  • Starlight
  • Starshot

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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