Endeavour's cargo bay loaded for space station run
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: March 26, 2011
Inside launch pad 39A's cleanroom today, technicians completed inserting a $2 billion physics instrument and a pallet of spare parts into the payload bay of shuttle Endeavour for hauling to the International Space Station.
The payload installation effort began Friday and was called complete today at 12:40 p.m. EDT (1640 GMT) with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and Express Logistics Carrier No. 3 locked into the orbiter's cargo hold.
ELC 3 is a two-sided deck carrying various replacement hardware for station systems that can be called upon in the future. It has a pair of S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure oxygen tank, an extra ammonia coolant reservoir, a new arm for the Dextre robot and some assorted electronics.
"Well, it has one of the most exciting names in the business, Express Logistics Carrier No. 3, but it's really important for the space station and we have, obviously by its name, we have other Express logistics carriers, and what we're doing is setting up the space station to last until 2020 and perhaps beyond. So in order for a large aerospace complex vehicle like the International Space Station to last a long time without a heavy lift vehicle like the shuttle to deliver spares, because things do break over time, we have all the spare parts of the station already bolted on to the outside of this big frame structure," said Endeavour mission specialist Mike Fincke.
Just after hours Endeavour docks to the space station, scheduled to occur April 21 around 5 p.m. EDT, the robotic arms of the shuttle and station will work in tandem to unberth the 14,000-pound ELC from the payload bay and attach it onto the port-side truss.
The following day, the 15,250-pound Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer will be hoisted from the rear of Endeavour's payload bay in similar fashion by the robot arms and mounted to the starboard-side truss. That is planned for April 22 around 2 p.m. EDT, given an on-time launch.
"The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is going to sit on the outside of the International Space Station and collect some amazing data," Fincke said in a pre-flight interview. "It's going to look up to the heavens and just receive whatever super particles decide to arrive. We're going to be able to detect some things that we've never seen before and understand the universe a lot better thanks to AMS."
AMS is the exotic experiment to prove the existence or myth of antimatter, seek out dark matter and probe the origins of the universe.
"AMS is a $2 billion cosmic particle detector. It's got 16 partner nations including the United States that are involved in designing and building this instrument. It's got 60, six zero, different universities that are involved, a lot of physicists. It's managed by the Department of Energy but the program is located in CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), outside of Geneva, Switzerland. And the program, specifically the principal investigator, is a Ph.D. physicist, Nobel Prize winner, named Dr. Samuel Ting, who envisioned and appropriated the money and constructed AMS with a big team of engineers but mostly physicists, and we're going to launch that as our primary payload," Endeavour commander Mark Kelly said.
"AMS is a cosmic particle detector that's going to look for a bunch of different things including antimatter, dark matter and dark energy, stuff that we don't know a lot about. We think there's antimatter in the universe, naturally occurring; physicists believe that at the Big Bang there were equal parts of matter and antimatter and we don't know where the antimatter is, so the AMS is going to try to answer a lot of those questions."
Endeavour is scheduled for launch April 19 at 7:48 p.m. EDT (2348 GMT) on the two-week mission that also includes four planned spacewalks to perform maintenance on the station.