What's being described as one of the most complex space scientific instruments ever built is on its way to the International Space Station to seek out the 'dark universe'.
The $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will fly on the space shuttle - as part of its last mission - next February.
AMS-02 is aimed at learning more about the origin and structure of the universe by observing antimatter and 'dark' matter. It may even detect an 'anti-universe' made of antimatter, the physicists say.
With a magnetic field 4,000 times stronger than that of Earth, the particle detector will directly examine each particle passing through it, in a program designed to complement that of the Large Hadron Collider.
It will also gatherinformation from cosmic radiation sources on stars and galaxies millions of light years away.
The ISS "is the only place where it can be installed due to stability reasons, the long-term exposure and also because we can always refurbish the instrument if necessary," says Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Human Spaceflight Director.
AMS-02 is expected to remain active for the entire lifetime of the ISS and will not return to Earth. "The ISS is set to be utilised for scientific and exploration purposes, so it is important to count on an instrument that can remain fully active for more than a decade," says Di Pippo.
AMS will now be installed in a clean room at the Kennedy Space Center for more tests. In a few weeks' time, it will be moved to the Space Shuttle, ready for its last mission.