A massive international experiment designed to study cosmic rays and dark matter in the universe will be deployed from space shuttle Endeavour on Thursday for it's placement outside the International Space Station.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 is the prime payload of Endeavour's supply mission. It is a particle physics experiment designed to study the origin of the universe as scientists use it's 300,000 data channels to flow information obtained to some 600 computers.
"The AMS is a two-ton ring of powerful magnets and ultra sensitive detectors built to track, but not capture, cosmic rays," Kennedy Space Center's Steven Siceloff explained recently. "It will be operated remotely from Earth and should not require any attention from astronauts in orbit."
NASA estimates the cost of the privately funded AMS 2 to be near two billion dollars.
This new spectrometer is a follow on to the smaller one which flew aboard shuttle Discovery in June 1998, on the final docking to the Russian Mir space station. The experiment was a success and NASA looked to have one on the upcoming International Space Station.
The 15,251 pound AMS will be placed aboard the orbiting complex on the Starboard 3 zenith, and is scheduled to run until the end of the station's planned life in 2020.
The spectrometer began powering up on Tuesday as ground teams checked out it's health one day following it's launch aboard Endeavour.
Endeavour's crew will power up the shuttle's 50-foot robotic arm and grapple the AMS-2 at 1:56 a.m. on Thursday. Mission specialists Roberto Vittori and Drew Feustel will operate the shuttle's arm to slowly lift AMS out of the back of the space craft's payload bay.
Five minutes later, the station's expedition crew will awake, and twenty minutes after that, mission specialists Roberto Vittori and Drew Feustel will operate the shuttle's arm to slowly lift AMS out of the back of the space craft's payload bay.
AMS will be slowly moved over to the space station's arm where it will then grapple the huge experiment package by shuttle astronauts Greg Johnson and Greg Chamitoff at 3:00 a.m.
Once connected, the shuttle's arm will then release it as the station's arm guides AMS over to the Starboard 3 location which is just inside the right second set of solar arrays on the station's main truss.
The crews will have AMS at the S3 zenith ninety minutes after the handoff, and will spend nearly one hour attaching AMS hard down.
Endeavour's crew and space station astronaut Ron Garan awoke at 10:56 p.m. EDT tonight, three hours before the station crew awakes, to begin a busy day aboard the station.