A ground control center for an advanced particle physics detector that was sent into space last year to gather data about the origin of the universe will be inaugurated in Taiwan tomorrow, a military researcher said yesterday.
“It will be the world’s second and Asia’s first ground control facility for the space device, known in academic circles as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 [AMS-02],” said Jinchi Hao (荊溪暠), a project director at the military-run Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST).
The state-of-the-art detector, which was designed and built by elite scientists from 16 countries including Taiwan, was taken to the International Space Station in May last year by the US space shuttle Endeavour on its final flight. It is designed mainly to detect charged particles in cosmic rays to find anti-matter, dark matter and missing matter in the hope of answering questions about the “big bang” and the formation of the universe, Jinchi said.
“To date, the detector has transmitted 18 billion pieces of data back to the project’s headquarters at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva,” Jinchi said, adding that the data could hold the key to revealing the origin of the universe.
Currently, experts at the Geneva station are working in shifts around the clock, with the US’ NASA Space Center in Houston providing backup support. To reduce the Geneva staff’s workload and allow even more comprehensive monitoring, project leader Samuel Ting (丁肇中) proposed the establishment of a similar ground station in Asia, to be dubbed “Payload Operations Control Center.” Ting is an Academia Sinica researcher and Nobel laureate in physics.
Other countries expressed strong interest in hosting the new facility because it would allow them to play a more important role in the joint project and facilitate bilateral or multilateral technological exchanges, Jinchi said. However, Taiwan was ultimately selected because it has been participating in the project for more than 10 years and has won much acclaim for its contributions in developing the device’s electronics system — which plays a crucial role in the project — he added.
“The establishment of the center is a new milestone in our participation in international space research programs,” Jinchi said.
The new payload control center will be located in the CSIST’s Lungyuan Research Park in Lungtan Township (龍潭), Taoyuan County. Initially, the center will not be able to communicate directly with the International Space Station, Jinchi said.
“But we expect to gain direct access to the space station soon, with NASA’s authorization,” he said.
NASA personnel have said the facility is comparable to the one in Geneva, said Yeh Fen (葉芬), a manager at the park’s innovation incubating center who is responsible for establishing the AMS-02 ground control station. The center has passed various tests by NASA inspectors, including Internet connectivity and information security checks, he said.
The payload control center, about the size of an average classroom, will be staffed by 12 scientists who will monitor the AMS-02’s “health” in real time via computers, Yeh added. Initially, they will work shifts from 6am to 2pm while the Geneva staff will take the remaining shifts. In the long term, the Taiwanese center will expand its capacity to accommodate three work shifts in case of any emergencies at the Geneva center Yeh said.