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  • AMS Arrives at Kennedy Space Center
Sep 2010
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Sept. 1, 2010 — The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), an experiment that will search for antimatter and dark matter in space, arrived recently at the Kennedy Space Center as it moves forward on its journey to the International Space Station.

The AMS detector was transported from CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, aboard a US Air Force Galaxy transport aircraft. AMS will examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe directly from space. Its main scientific target is the search for dark matter and antimatter, in a program that is complementary to that of the Large Hadron Collider.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is being prepared for a mission to look for antimatter and dark matter during a mission in 2011 aboard the International Space Station.

Last February, the AMS detector travelled from CERN to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, for testing to certify its readiness for travel into space. Following the completion of the testing, the AMS collaboration decided to return the detector 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 will now allow the experiment to remain operational for the lifetime of the ISS.

Following its return to CERN, the AMS detector was reconfigured with the permanent magnet before being tested with CERN particle beams. The tests were used to validate and calibrate the new configuration before the detector left Europe for the last time.

"The entire AMS collaboration is delighted by this departure, because it marks a crucial milestone for the experiment. We are getting close to the space shuttle launch and the moment when our detector will finally be installed on board the ISS," said Sam Ting, Nobel laureate and spokesman for the experiment. "The detector's construction phase is now finished and we are eager for the data collection phase to begin."

"The launch of AMS detector is very timely," added Roberto Petronzio, president of the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics. "Today we are well aware of our ignorance of [the] 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."

Now that the AMS has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, it will be installed in a cleanroom for more tests. After a few weeks, the detector will be moved to the space shuttle. NASA is planning the last flight of the space shuttle program, 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 and on to CERN's site in Prévessin, France, where the detector control center will be located, and to a number of regional physics analysis centers set up by the collaborating institutes. The AMS detector components were produced by an international team, with substantial contributions from CERN member states (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland), and from China (Taipei) and the US. The detector was assembled at CERN, with the assistance of the laboratory's technical services.

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