NASA Endeavor to carry itsy-bitsy solar-wind research satellites

NASA Endeavor space shuttle carrying all types of advanced experiments, including anti-matter detector

cornell's sprite chipsat
NASA's space shuttle Endeavor will fly three fingernail-sized satellites to the International Space Station this week where they will spend the next few years gathering all manner of information on the Sun's solar winds.

According to NASA the Cornell-developed, 1-inch-square prototype chips or chipsats, known as "Sprite," will be mounted to the test bed package known as the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-8) pallet. The pallet will be attached to the space station, exposing the chips to the harsh conditions of space to see how they hold up and transmit data, NASA said.

More on space: Gigantic changes keep space technology hot 

The prototypes are physically identical, but each transmits differently.  "That's very important because it's a pathfinder for something we hope to do in the future. We want to launch a huge number of these things simultaneously but still sort out which is which," said Mason Peck, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell.   When deployed in space from a spacecraft, the chipsat's small size lets them travel like space dust and blown by solar winds and they can 'sail' to distant locations without fuel, Peck said.

The current prototypes are mostly made of commercial parts, but Peck's group has partnered with Draper Lab in Boston to work on making a more space-ready prototype.

The chipsets will fly onboard space shuttle Endeavour's final flight, slated to launch at 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29.

Endeavour is headed for a 14-day mission to the International Space Station. According to NASA the shuttle will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to operate from the station and search for antimatter and the origin and structure of dark matter.  Also onboard for delivery will be station spare parts on the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3, including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, an ammonia tank assembly, circuit breaker boxes, a Canadarm2 computer and a spare arm for the Dextre robot, NASA said.

The ELC3 also houses a suite of Department of Defense experiments that will test systems and materials concepts for long duration spaceflight in low Earth orbit. STS-134 includes four spacewalks that focus on station maintenance, experiment swap out and transferring Endeavour's orbiter boom sensor system to the station. The crew will leave the boom as a permanent fixture to aid future station spacewalk work, if needed, NASA said.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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