Its real name is AMS-2 or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Its job? Antimatter hunter.
From May 2011 it will fly around 400 km above our heads in space.
Mounted on the International Space Station’s main truss it will decrypt cosmic rays coming towards the Earth to search for antimatter and dark matter, in theory the missing signature of the Big Bang.
The AMS is a multinational project led by Nobel prizewinner Samuel Ting: it brings together 16 countries and 56 scientific institutions, from NASA and ESA to the CERN.
It is the scientific jewel in the ISS’s crown says Dr. Martin Pohl:
“It is a big device, 3 meters wide and 4 meters high, packed with high technology, but with only tiny electrical consumption. It’s a very ecological experiment and the reason is that aboard the station the energy production is very limited.”
The core of this 7.5 ton detector with the electrical power of a professional hair-dryer is a superconducting magnet, which produces a magnetic field 4000 times stronger than the Earth’s. It can study the composition of any cosmic ray passing through it to one part in one 10 billion.
“The data will first be stored on an onboard computer, then directly transmitted to Earth. It will land somewhere in Alabama in the USA, and then be sent, by internet, to the CERN, where we will set up a data elaboration center,” says Pohl.
AMS will keep on working for at least 14 years as NASA, following a request from its ISS partners, seems willing to extend the ISS lifetime till 2025 or even 2028, beyond its previous decommissioning date of around 2016.