Thursday, July 23, 2009

Live in orbit: First experiment attached to porch

An International Space Station platform designed to hold experiments exposed to outer space has its first tenant.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Endeavour commander Mark Polansky, operating a set of two robotic arms measuring a combined 38.7 feet, mated the experiment box to the new "porch" on Japan's Kibo science lab complex. Kibo means "hope" in Japanese.

The experiment is called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image, or MAXI.

"Congratulations, we believe that we have MAXI fully captured," a station astronaut said at 11:24 a.m. EDT.

MAXI will scan more than 1,000 objects in space every 96 minutes with two sensitive slit cameras. Images will be able to be quickly sent via the Internet to ground observatories for follow-up observations with telescopes.

The objects scanned include galaxy clusters, black holes, supernova remnants, stars and neutron stars. Some interplanetary bodies in the solar system also emit x-rays, most notably, the moon, which reflects solar x-rays from the sun.

The experiment is expected to stay on the Kibo porch for about two years.

Next up is the installation of communications equipment on the porch that will allow Japan's Mission Control Room to communicate directly with the Kibo facility.

IMAGES: MAXI diagram and photo courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

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