Bonner Ball Neutron Detector (BBND) - 02.15.14

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery
ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone Bonner Ball Neutron Detector (BBND) measures neutron radiation (low-energy, uncharged particles) which can deeply penetrate the body and damage blood forming organs. Neutron radiation is estimated to be 20 percent of the total radiation on the International Space Station (ISS). This study characterizes the neutron radiation environment to develop safety measures to protect future ISS crews. This was a cooperative experiment with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Science Results for Everyone

Low-energy, uncharged neutron particles may account for 30 percent of radiation exposure of astronauts on the space station. This study collected data on the neutron radiation environment, showing that galactic cosmic rays were the major cause of secondary neutrons inside the station, influenced by highly energetic galactic cosmic rays. The average dose-equivalent rate observed through the investigation was about 10 times the average exposure on Earth. Results were obtained without returning equipment to Earth, demonstrating that similar measurement systems could help safeguard crewmembers on missions to the moon and Mars. This technology could also monitor high-radiation facilities on Earth.

This content was provided by Aiko Matsumoto, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Aiko Matsumoto, JAXA, Tsukuba, Japan

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
  • Seiichi Koga, JAXA, Japan
  • Hideki Koshiishi, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Ibaraki, Japan

  • Developer(s)
    Johnson Space Center, Human Research Program, Houston, TX, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Information Pending

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration
    March 2001 - December 2001

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions
    BBND first flew on STS-89, during which real-time, active radiation was measured as a test case for ISS missions.

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • Bonner Ball Neutron Detector (BBND) is a system developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that measured real-time neutron radiation to aid in the study of environmental and biological effects from space radiation on the International Space Station (ISS).

    • BBND monitored neutron radiation which can affect blood-forming marrow in bones. Characterization of the neutron radiation environment of the ISS will lead to the development of safety measures to protect crewmembers during long-duration missions.

    The Bonner Ball Neutron Detector (BBND) developed by Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) was used inside the International Space Station (ISS) to measure the neutron energy spectrum. It consisted of several neutron moderators enabling the device to discriminate neutron energies up to 15 MeV (15 mega electron volts). This BBND characterized the neutron radiation on ISS during Expeditions 2 and 3.

    Due to their neutral charge, neutrons are not affected by magnetic forces and they penetrate deeper in materials and may deposit a larger fraction of their energy into human tissue than charged-particle radiations. Neutrons in the space environment are present in galactic background and solar events (primary particles), neutrons are also produced by the interaction of particles in the materials used to construct spacecraft (secondary particles). High energy secondary neutrons are produced by the interactions of high-energy charged-particles with spacecraft materials and planetary surfaces.

    BBND experiment hardware consists of two assemblies: the BBND control unit, which stores radiation measurements and controls data quality; and the BBND detector unit (DU), which measures neutron radiation via a series of six stainless-steel spherical shells. Four spheres are thermal neutron detectors covered in polyethylene of different thickness, one detector is covered in gadolinium; and one detector is uncovered. The gadolinium-covered sphere acts as a control; neutrons are unable to penetrate the dense gadolinium, and the data collected by the sphere are used to determine the difference between pulses created by neutrons and protons. Data collected from the polyethylene-covered spheres will shows the amount of hydrogen surrounding the detector affects the amount of radiation penetration.

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    Space Applications
    Neutrons are uncharged atomic particles that have the ability to penetrate living tissues. Because they are neutral they can penetrate farther into tissue than other types of radiation and cause severe damage, including nerve damage, cataracts and cancer. Neutron radiation can also affect the blood-forming marrow in the bones of humans and other animals. As 20 percent of the radiation that bombards the ISS is neutron radiation, it is necessary to characterize the real-time effect.

    The six BBND detectors provided data indicating how much radiation was absorbed at various times, allowing a model of real-time exposure to be calculated, as opposed to earlier models of passive neutron detectors which were only capable of providing a total amount of radiation received over a span of time. Neutron radiation information obtained from the Bonner Ball Neutron Detector (BBND) can be used to develop safety measures to protect crewmembers during both long-duration missions on the ISS and during interplanetary exploration.

    Earth Applications
    BBND will help determine the amount of shielding needed to protect humans from neutron radiation. This data can be extrapolated to the nuclear industry to develop more effective personal protective equipment for people working with neutron radiation.

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    Operational Requirements
    The crew transferred and downlinked data weekly via the Human Research Facility-1 (HRF-1) workstation. They also transferred the BBND from the Shuttle to Station, and distributed the parts to the appropriate locations. After installation, BBND automatically gathered data.

    Operational Protocols
    Following activation, BBND continuously collected data, which was stored on the BBND hard drive. The crew checked the BBND clock daily and changed-out the hard drive and downlinked data weekly. BBND was initially deployed in an empty rack in the U.S. Destiny Laboratory, and was relocated near the Laboratory's window one week prior to Expedition 3.

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    Results/More Information

    BBND characterized the neutron radiation on ISS during Expeditions 2 and 3 and determined that galactic cosmic rays were the major cause of secondary neutrons measured inside ISS. The neutron energy spectrum was measured from March 23, 2001 through November 14, 2001 in the U.S. Laboratory Module of the ISS. The time frame enabled neutron measurements to be made during a time of increased solar activity (solar maximum) as well as observe the results of a solar flare on November 4, 2001.

    BBND results show the overall neutron environment at the ISS orbital altitude is influenced by highly energetic galactic cosmic rays, except in the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) region where protons trapped in the Earth's magnetic field cause a more severe neutron environment. However, the number of particles measured per second per square cm per MeV obtained by BBND is consistently lower than that of the precursor investigations. The average dose-equivalent rate observed through the investigation was 3.9 micro Sv/hour or about 10 times the rate of radiological exposure to the average US citizen. In general, radiation damage to the human body is indicated by the amount of energy deposited in living tissue, modified by the type of radiation causing the damage; this is measured in units of Sieverts (Sv). The background radiation dose received by an average person in the United States is approximately 3.5 milliSv/year. Conversely, an exposure of 1 Sv can result in radiation poisoning and a dose of five Sv will result in death in 50 percent of exposed individuals. The average dose-equivalent rate observed through the BBND investigation is 3.9 micro Sv/hour, or about ten times the average US surface rate. The highest rate, 96 microSv/hour was observed in the SAA region.

    The November 4, 2001 solar flare and the associated geomagnetic activity caused the most severe radiation environment inside the ISS during the BBND experiment. The increase of neutron dose-equivalent due to those events was evaluated to be 0.19mSv, which is less than 1 percent of the measured neutron dose-equivalent measured over the entire 8-month period.

    Although this experiment did not characterize the neutron radiation environment outside of Earth's magnetic field, the BBND sampling equipment provided results without return of equipment to Earth and proved that similar measurement systems could be used on missions to the moon and Mars to monitor real time radiation risks (Expedition 2 and 3 One Year Postflight Report). (Evans et al. 2009)

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    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

      Matsumoto H, Goka T, Koga K, Iwai S, Uehara T, Sato O, Takagi S.  Real-time measurement of low-energy-range neutron spectra on board the space shuttle STS-89 (S/MM-8). Radiation Measurements. 2001; 33(3): 321-333.
      Koga K, Goka T, Matsumoto H, Muraki Y, Masuda K, Matsubara Y.  Development of the fiber neutron monitor for the energy range 15-100 MeV on the International Space Station (ISS). Radiation Measurements. 2001; 33(3): 287-291.
      Armstrong TW, Colborn BL.  Predictions of secondary neutrons and their importance to radiation effects inside the International Space Station. Radiation Measurements. 2001; 33(3): 229-234.
      Singleterry Jr. RC, Badavi FF, Shinn JL, Cucinotta FA, Badhwar GD, Clowdsley MS, Heinbockel JH, Wilson JW, Atwell W, Beaujean R, Kopp J, Reitz G.  Estimation of neutron and other radiation exposure components in low earth orbit. Radiation Measurements. 2001; 33(3): 355-360.
      Chishiki A, Matsumoto H, Koshiishi H.  Analysis of the Neutron Radiation Environment inside the International Space Station as Obtained by a Bonner Ball Neutron Detector. 2nd International Workshop on Space Radiation Research, Nara, Japan; 2002 Mar
      Miller MJ.  Neutron detection and multiplicity counting using a boron-loaded plastic scintillator/bismuth germanate phoswich detector array. NASA Technical Memorandum; 1998.
      Koshiishi H, Chishiki A, Matsumoto H, Takagi S, Goka T.  Studies of the Neutron Environment inside the International Space Station Obtained by the Bonner Ball Neutron Detector. 34th COSPAR Scientific Assembly, Houston, TX; 2002 Oct

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    Related Websites
    NASA Fact Sheet
    International Space Station Medical Project (ISSMP)

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    image The detection unit of BBND is shown above. The Bonner Ball Neutron Detector measures neutron radiation. Neutrons are uncharged atomic particles that have the ability to penetrate living tissues, harming human beings in space. Image courtesy of NASA.
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    image The neutron detector of the BBND experiment is housed inside a small plastic ball, which can be placed in various parts of the ISS to measure neutron radiation. Image coutesy of NASA.
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    image NASA Image: ISS002E5716 - Voss with Bonner Ball Neutron Detector Control Unit in Destiny laboratory. This unit will process and store neutron information recorded by six spherical detectors scattered around the Station.
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    image NASA Image: ISS003E5422 - A view of the Bonner Ball Neutron Detector Unit in the U.S. Laboratory/Destiny taken during the Expedition 3.
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