Sub-GLE Solar Particle Events and the Implications for Lightly-Shielded Systems Flown During an Era of Low Solar Activity
Tylka, Allan J.
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Many of the large space missions must be very rigorous in their designs to reduce risk from radiation damage as much as possible. Some ways of reducing this risk have been to build in multiple redundancies, purchase/develop radiation hardened electronics parts, and plan for worst case radiation environment scenarios. These methods work well for these ambitious missions that can afford the costs associated with these meticulous efforts. However, there have been more small spacecraft and CubeSats with smaller duration missions entering the space arena, which can take some additional risks, but cannot afford to implement all of these risk-reducing methods. Therefore, one way to quantify the radiation exposure risk for these smaller spacecraft would be to investigate the radiation environment pertinent to the mission to better understand these radiation exposures, rather than always designing to the infrequent, worst-case environment. In this study, we have investigated 34 historical solar particle events (1974-2010) that occurred during a time period when the sun spot number (SSN) was less than 30. These events contain Ground Level Events (GLE), sub-GLEs, and sub-sub-GLEs1-3. GLEs are extremely energetic solar particle events (SPEs) having proton energies often extending into the several GeV range and producing secondary particles in the atmosphere, mostly neutrons, observed with ground station neutron monitors. Sub-GLE events are less energetic, extending into the several hundred MeV range, but without producing detectable levels of secondary atmospheric particles. Sub-sub GLEs are even less energetic with an observable increase in protons at energies greater than 30 MeV, but no observable proton flux above 300 MeV. The spectra for these events were fitted using a double power law fit in particle rigidity, called the Band fit method (Tylka and Dietrich, 2009). The differential spectra were then input into the NASA Langley Research Center HZETRN 2005 (F. F. Badavi, 2006), which is a high-energy particle transport/dose code, to determine the dose in various thicknesses of aluminum, representing the spacecraft. This paper will detail the absorbed dose results of each of these environments, as well as analyze the data to better understand the doses over small thicknesses that are more relevant to small spacecraft and satellites, such as CubeSats. In addition, we will discuss the implications of these data and provide some recommendations that may be useful to spacecraft designers of these smaller spacecraft/CubeSat-type missions.