Supporting the Future of Space Exploration

Researchers at the Texas A&M University Cyclotron Institute conduct radiation testing on components for SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Video courtesy of Texas A&M University (TAMU). The TAMU Cyclotron Institute’s Radiation Effects Facility directly benefits space exploration.

The Science

SpaceX’s development and successful launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft marks a milestone in space exploration. As space travel becomes more accessible, it is increasingly important to make sure that travel is safe. Radiation is a constant concern for people who travel to space and the spacecraft that transport them. Radiation can cause system failures in spacecraft; electrical parts should be tested to determine how they stand up to radiation prior to installation. Radiation testing for many the electrical components used by SpaceX took place at the Texas A&M University Cyclotron Institute, a DOE Center of Excellence.

The Impact

The most important aspect of a spacecraft mission is crew safety. Radiation testing ensures emerging technology does not fail and put the crew in jeopardy. Older spacecraft used analog electronics, but new electronics raise new challenges as technology advances and parts become smaller. Smaller electronic components are more susceptible to radiation damage. However, radiation testing helps to ensure that components are designed to be as resilient as possible.


The main radiation threat to electronic devices in space are single-event effects (SEEs). SEEs occur when a single high-energy particle gets into an integrated circuit and interrupts its normal operation. Some SEEs are destructive, some are not. One particular type of SEE is a single-event upset (SEU) which occurs in memory devices. SEUs cause information changes, such as switching “1” to “0” and “0” to “1” in binary code. These effects are not permanent but can cause major system failures. Another type is a single-event transient (SET) which are voltage glitches in circuits caused by ions. SETs are fundamental to all types of SEEs and effect both analog and digital electronics. Radiation testing on electronics is important to determine the presence and characteristics of SEEs. The testing determines if the SETs are destructive, if they are voltage or temperature dependent, and the amplitude and width of SETs. Testing also allows researchers to calculate the SEE rate for a radiation environment and reveal what part of an electronic chip is sensitive to SEEs. Over the past three years, nearly 100 electronic components of the Crew Dragon capsule were tested at the Texas A&M University Cyclotron Institute.


Sherry Yennello / Henry Clark
Texas A&M University / 


The Texas &M Cyclotron Institute is a DOE Center of Excellence supported by the Office of Nuclear Physics.

Related Links

Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute Provides Radiation Effects Testing For SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule, Texas A&M Today