‘Radiation’ in the spacecraft environment context generally refers to subatomic particles in space. Of course, the Sun and other astrophysical sources yield electromagnetic radiation (hard UV, X-rays and gamma rays) that are somewhat damaging to materials and living things, but these effects are generally small. In this chapter we discuss briefly the sources of energetic particles and their effects on spacecraft systems (Trainor, 1994); effects on living things are discussed in Section 14.3
Note that because the missions of entry probes and landers tend to be short, and the radiation environment at or near a planetary surface is more benign than in orbit, the radiation hazard is generally not as significant a concern as it is for orbiters. Landers on airless bodies (the Moon, Mercury, and especially Europa) may be exceptions, due to secondary radiation from the surface. However, all landers will need a radiation tolerance in that they spend time, perhaps many years, in the space environment.
There are four principal sources of radiation that must be considered. First is any radiation source carried by the spacecraft, such as a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), radioisotope heaters or sources associated with instruments such as X-ray fluorescence spectrometers. A characteristic of RTGs is their neutron flux.
A second source is galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). These are high-energy particles, usually nuclei of high atomic number (‘heavy-Z’ or ‘high-Z’ particles) from astrophysical sources.