Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Geneva airport was more than usually busy Wednesday 25 August, even for an end of holidays period, with the hubbub surrounding Cern’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) being packed onto a US Air Force Galaxy transport plane.
The AMS flies to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday, where it will join the final flight (ISS) in the US space shuttle programme, scheduled for the end of February 2011.
The AMS detector “will examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe directly from space,” according to Cern (European Nuclear Research Organization). “Its main scientific target is the search for dark matter and antimatter, in a programme that is complementary to that of the Large Hadron Collider.”
The detector travelled to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (Estec) in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, in February for testing to certify its readiness for travel into space. It returned to Cern for final modifications.
“In particular, the detector’s superconducting magnet was replaced by the permanent magnet from the AMS-01 prototype, which had already flown into space in 1998. The reason for the decision was that the operational lifetime of the superconducting magnet would have been limited to three years, because there is no way of refilling the magnet with liquid helium, necessary to maintain the magnet’s superconductivity, on board the space station. The permanent magnet, on the other hand, will now allow the experiment to remain operational for the entire lifetime of the ISS,” Cern notes in a press release.
Roberto Petronzio, president of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, says the timing is important. “Today we are well aware of our ignorance of universe’s most abundant constituents and we still challenge the puzzle of matter-antimatter asymmetry.
Furthermore, recent results from the Pamela experiment suggest scenarios for important discoveries for AMS. The experiment stems from a large international collaboration joining the effort of major European funding agencies with the US and China.”
The AMS will be installed in a “clean room” when it arrives at the Kennedy Space Center, where final tests will be carried out before it is moved to the space shuttle. NASA is planning the last flight of the space shuttle programme, which will carry AMS into space, for the end of February 2011.
Once docked to the ISS, AMS will search for antimatter and dark matter by measuring cosmic rays. Data collected in space by AMS will be transmitted to Houston in the US and to Cern’s Prévessin site, where the detector control centre will be located. Data will also go to a number of regional physics analysis centres set up by the collaborating institutes.