Cern gets ready to hunt for antimatter in space

A spectrometer module that will look for dark matter and antimatter in space is set to leave Cern for lift-off at the Kennedy Space Centre on Tuesday

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a module that will go into space to conduct particle physics experiments, is set to leave Cern for the Kennedy Space Centre on Tuesday.

The AMS module is being prepared for its transportation to the space centre in Florida on board a US Air Force Galaxy transport aircraft, Cern said in a statement on Wednesday. Once launched, AMS-02 will operate as an external module on the International Space Station (ISS). It will look for antimatter and dark matter while measuring cosmic ray composition, in a series of experiments designed to complement the particle physics work being undertaken at the Large Hadron Collider.

"We are getting close to the space shuttle launch and the moment when our detector will finally be installed on board the ISS," said AMS-02 spokesman Sam Ting in the Cern statement. "The detector's construction phase is now finished, and we are eager for the data collection phase to begin."

The AMS-02 weighs 8,500kg, and it will require 2.5kW of power, Cern spokesman James Gillies told ZDNet UK. The module will be launched into space on the final space shuttle flight on Endeavour, which is scheduled for February 2011, he added. It will be controlled from Cern, which on the Swiss/French border.

The experiments and the module are the culmination of 15 years of work. In February, the AMS-02 detector was transported to the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk in the Netherlands for testing and modification. The detector's superconducting magnet was replaced by the permanent magnet from the AMS-01 prototype, which had gone into space in 1998.

The permanent magnet will mean AMS-02 will remain operational for the lifetime of the ISS, according to Cern. If its previous superconducting magnet had been used, the experiment would only have been operational for three years, as the magnet would have been kept at 1.8 degrees above absolute zero by slowly evaporating liquid helium.