Postcard from the LAT
By the time the Large Area Telescope (LAT) begins orbiting the earth next fall, it will already be a seasoned traveler. Between its birth at SLAC and its launch into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the instrument will have logged thousands of land miles, crossing the country three times as scientists and engineers prepare it for its mission.
The LAT has already finished two legs of that land journey, and is currently residing in a clean room facility at General Dynamics in Gilbert, Arizona, where the Gamma Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) observatory is being assembled. The LAT is the primary component of GLAST, an observatory that will detect gamma rays in space. GLAST's mission is to probe the nature of dark matter, the collapse of massive stars, and radiation from massive black holes.
Earlier this month, NASA formally accepted the LAT from SLAC, "a milestone for everyone who worked on the instrument," says LAT project manager Ken Fouts.
The handover indicates that the LAT met NASA's performance requirements and is "worthy of being flown," says Fouts. It also gives workers at General Dynamics the go-ahead to begin attaching the instrument to the craft that will carry it into space. Once the LAT is attached, the GLAST observatory will undergo comprehensive testing before traveling to Florida in the final leg of its journey to the launch pad.
This past May, the LAT roadtripped from SLAC, where it was assembled, to the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where it underwent four months of tests that simulated the extreme conditions of launch and space. It traveled from D.C. to Arizona in September.
Although the LAT's handover to NASA is a big accomplishment, "it doesn't mean we're done," says Fouts. LAT personnel from SLAC and the Naval Research Lab are stationed in Arizona to monitor the LAT's performance any time the instrument is powered on. SLAC personnel are also working with the international LAT collaboration to develop the instrument's flight software, and will process the raw data from the instrument once it reaches its final destinationspace.