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Science Highlight: AMS-02 and ISS -- an Out of this World Collaboration
09.17.10
AMS 02 integration activities in Geneva, Switzerland. AMS-02 integration activities in Geneva, Switzerland. Image credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
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Partnerships use teamwork to enable projects, which may not otherwise be possible. When that project is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02 (AMS-02), with more than 60 institutes and companies, including 500 participants from 16 countries, the potential for collaborative benefits enters a whole new level. Organized as the AMS Collaboration and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this highly participated experiment will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on STS-134. Johnson Space Center (JSC) is the integration interface between NASA Centers and Programs, serving as the point of contact for the AMS Collaboration to NASA.

Trent Martin, NASA AMS Project Manager, commented, "AMS and the AMS Collaboration is exactly the kind of science we need for ISS. It shows we can take scientists across the globe from nontraditional aerospace researchers and use the resources NASA and the international partners have built in the ISS."

For instance, the various international contributors funded 95 percent of the $2 billion experiment by splitting development responsibilities. The eight AMS-02 subdetectors were built in different countries and then assembled at the European Center for Nuclear Research (a.k.a., CERN) in Geneva.

The brainchild of MIT's Professor Samuel Ting, a Nobel Prize Laureate and official spokesperson for the experiment, the AMS-02 is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector that will attach to the outside of the ISS. Within the space environment, the AMS-02 will search for antimatter, dark matter, and measure cosmic rays. The Earth's atmosphere would absorb these cosmic rays, making the ISS essential to the success of the experiment.

Trent Martin explains, "The universe is the ultimate accelerator, so cosmic rays we measure in space could have energies several orders of magnitude higher than Earth-bound accelerators...we will see a whole new realm of cosmic rays and space science."

The eight AMS-02 subdetectors allow for multiple measurements of cosmic particles, as well as independent data verification. Once the data collects, the ISS will transmit it to Earth via standard ISS data paths. The AMS Collaboration then disseminates the data to the various science centers around the world for research. The results will reroute back through the AMS Collaboration and Professor Ting prior to publication.

Technologies developed for AMS-02 may provide advancements in long duration spaceflight, such as a better understanding of the space radiation environment, improvements to radiation shielding and advances in propulsion and power systems. What excites scientists, however, is the potential AMS-02 offers to increase our understanding of fundamental issues on the origin and structure of the universe. It is this universal knowledge, resulting from the partnership of the AMS Collaboration, that stands to profit mankind on a global level.
by Jessica Nimon
NASA's Johnson Space Center
ISS Program Science Office