Thursday, May 19, 2011

Endeavour crew begins AMS installation

Endeavour astronauts have begun installing a $2 billion particle physics detector on the outside of the International Space Station, the top objective of the shuttle's 16-day mission and the last major hardware a shuttle will add to the outpost.

At 2:30 a.m. EDT, the orbiter's 50-foot robotic arm, operated by Endeavour mission specialist Roberto Vittori, grabbed hold of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS, to start the process of lifting it from the back of the payload bay.

The joined shuttle and station were flying 216 miles above western Kazakhstan.

Next, the shuttle arm will hand the 7.5-ton instrument to the space station's 58-foot arm, which will install it on the right, space-facing side of the station's 357-foot structural backbone.

Once installed, AMS expected to begin collecting science data within hours.

AMS hopes to lean more about dark matter, antimatter and strange matter. Nobel Prize-winner Samuel Ting of MIT led a team of nearly 600 physicists from 16 countries that began developing AMS in 1994.

The instrument features a large permanent magnet that will bend the trajectories of high-energy cosmic particles as they pass through eight sophisticated detectors.

Take a look at this NASA animation to see the AMS installation sequence:

And here's a closer look at the AMS instrument:

No comments: