Radiation belts, also known as Van Allen belts, are fascinating and dynamic regions encircling the Earth, where charged particles, predominantly electrons and protons, are trapped by our planet’s magnetic field. These belts, discovered by American scientist James Van Allen in 1958, play a significant role in shaping the space environment around Earth.
The two primary radiation belts are the inner and outer belts, each exhibiting unique characteristics. The inner belt consists mainly of high-energy protons and is located at altitudes ranging from about 700 kilometres to 10,000 kilometres above Earth’s surface. The outer belt, on the other hand, contains predominantly high-energy electrons and extends from about 13,000 kilometres to 65,000 kilometres above the Earth.
For satellites orbiting within these radiation belts, exposure to the trapped charged particles can have substantial implications. The increased radiation levels in these regions can pose potential risks to the satellite’s electronics, systems, and data. High-energy particles can collide with and damage sensitive components, leading to malfunctions or degradation of satellite performance over time.
To mitigate the effects of radiation exposure, satellite designers and engineers implement various shielding and protective measures. Robust spacecraft shielding and radiation-hardened components are used to safeguard the satellite’s critical systems from the harsh space environment. Additionally, careful orbit selection and trajectory planning can help minimise the satellite’s time spent within the most intense regions of the radiation belts.