If water is the cheapest, and most usable radiation shield material for human space travel, how do we get large amounts of it to orbit?

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    $\begingroup$ Could you provide some links to support the claim of water being "most usable radiation shield material for human space travel"? $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2019 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @LeoS I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is the best, but it would technically do the job. Not to mention what a mammoth of a nightmare it would be for astrodynamics. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2019 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ Water is cheapest, yes, but certainly not cheap at all to carry along with into space. The above link uses a rational estimate of 330,260kg of water to protect a decent-sized mission capsule to mars. That's 6 Falcon Heavy launches for parking at LEO or 20 launches for a direct flight path to mars. $\endgroup$ Nov 21, 2019 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ Many folks here, I'm sure, remember that, during the Space Shuttle program, we brought lots of water to orbit via O2 and H2 cryo, converting same to H2O via the Orbiter's fuel cells (which were used to generate electricity, said H2O being a (desired) "byproduct"). $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Nov 21, 2019 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Dehydrate it first, to save mass! $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2019 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


Water is only cheap on Earth. See related What is the current cost-per-pound to send something into LEO? (spoiler 1 Liter = 1KG, 3.78Liters = 1 gallon; very cheapest is more than 15,000USD to get 1 gallon of water to LEO)

Water is not the most effective shield. But it will work See related What thickness/depth of water would be required to provide radiation shielding in Earth orbit?

The effectiveness of a shielding material in general increases with its atomic number, called Z, except for neutron shielding which is more readily shielded by the likes of neutron absorbers and moderators such as compounds of boron e.g. boric acid, cadmium, carbon and hydrogen respectively.

Graded-Z shielding is a laminate of several materials with different Z values (atomic numbers) designed to protect against ionizing radiation. Compared to single-material shielding, the same mass of graded-Z shielding has been shown to reduce electron penetration over 60%. It is commonly used in satellite-based particle detectors, offering several benefits:

  • protection from radiation damage
  • reduction of background noise for detectors
  • lower mass compared to single-material shielding


The cheapest shield for space will have the least amount of mass, for the greatest protection. So some kind of 'Graded-Z shielding' is going to be cheapest.

There is already lots of water in space near Earth

the team calculated a basic estimate for how much water could be trapped inside near-Earth asteroids. According to that estimate, there may be between 100 billion and 400 billion gallons (400 billion to 1,200 billion liters) of water spread among these space rocks. Source


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