Most of the radiation that astronauts are exposed to in space comes from highly charged electrons and protons. The Operational Space Medicine (OSM) Group of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is supporting the development of a tool based on MOSFET dosimeter technology to measure this radiation.
The MOSFET (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) dosimeter is a miniature silicon device that measures radiation. When radiation hits the sensor, electrical charges are created, thereby changing the voltage of the device. Different kinds of radiation create different changes in voltage. Scientists calibrate the device on earth with various kinds of radiation to determine how much radiation is absorbed by the dosimeter in space.
MOSFET dosimeters have the advantage of being lighter and having thinner active areas than other radiation detectors. They can be used to estimate the amount of radiation received by the skin, eyes and Blood Forming Organs (BFO) by using shields of different thickness over the sensor.
The Canadian company Thomson and Nielsen Electronics Ltd. originally developed MOSFET dosimeters for radiation detection in the nuclear and medical fields. In 1991 the CSA commissioned Thomson & Nielsen to develop MOSFET detectors for space use, and in 1992 they were used for the first time in space aboard the Russian Bion-10 satellite. In 1995 the CSA's Canadian Astronaut Office (CAO) requested Thomson & Nielsen to develop a prototype Astronaut Radiation Monitor (ARM) capable of measuring skin, eye and BFO radiation doses, as well as dose-rate. After initial tests aboard the Russian Bion-11 satellite in 1996, a monitor to measure astronauts' radiation exposures during a spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), was developed based on the ARM prototype. This monitor, called the ExtraVehicular Activity Radiation Monitor (EVARM), has been aboard the International Space Station (ISS) since 2001 and has produced valuable data on individual astronauts' skin, eye and BFO exposures during EVAs.
Since 2002, the OSM Group has been working with Thomson & Nielsen to develop a radiation monitoring device using MOSFET technology for a project called Matroshka-R. This project is led by the State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and is scheduled to be on the Russian segment of the ISS from 2005 to 2008. The purpose of Matroshka-R is to estimate the amount of radiation received by the internal organs of humans in space by using a "phantom" - a spherical imitation of a human body made of material that imitates human tissues.
Along with a number of different detectors inserted in the phantom, the MOSFET detectors will measure radiation doses to simulated internal organs. The MOSFET dosimeter system consists of tiny silicon chip sensors mounted on flexible tape that are inserted into the phantom and an electronic data-reading device called a MOSFET Reader.
The sensors continuously monitor voltage and record the radiation doses at regular intervals. MOSFET data from Matroshka-R will be stored inside the MOSFET reader, and can be downloaded to a computer or a memory card. The data will be compared with the results from other types of detectors used in the experiment and all data will be analyzed to advance understandings of the radiation risk to the ISS crew.