June 5, 2020

19.04.11: AMS-02: A Preview.

A very special payload will be aboard the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, one that had a long hard road to launch. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) is destined for installation early next month on the S3 Upper Inboard Payload Attach Site on the International Space Station. Once aboard the ISS, the AMS will begin doing real science almost immediately, utilizing a large permanent magnet and no less than five detectors to perform astrophysical experiments.

A smaller version of AMS, AMS-01 flew aboard STS-91 Space Shuttle Discovery in June, 1998. Principal investigator & Nobel Prize winner Samuel Ting of MIT hopes to use AMS to look for such elusive particles as anti-helium atoms, and AMS may answer key mysteries confronting astrophysics such as the nature of the early universe and the locale of elusive dark matter. To this end, AMS will search for one of the leading dark matter suspects, the neutralino. AMS-02 will also seek to characterize the cosmic ray environment, a key measurement that will be vital for prolonged human space missions such as a trip to Mars. With its expanded size, AMS-02 will have along the order of x1,000 times the sensitivity of its predecessor and will employ star trackers to align with point source candidates.

Why place AMS aboard the ISS and not in a free orbit? The power requirements for AMS (remember that giant magnet?) are huge; AMS operates of off the resources of the space station is planned to operate for the lifespan of the ISS, currently projected out to 2020. And just think, a decade’s worth of data; AMS-01 flew for scant days!

AMS-02 almost never made it to space; the Columbia disaster in 2003 resulted in a push back that caused the AMS to be off the congressional budget until STS-134 was funded in late 2008.This is what the ISS was meant to do, perform real science. Just think, we might have some of the key issues of cosmology solved in the decades to come, and AMS-02 may pave the way!

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