Telescope, spacecraft linked for launch

Once integration is complete in late February, the observatory will undergo testing to ensure it’s prepared for rigors of space

GENERAL DYNAMICS C4 SYSTEMS Large Area Space Telescope

The Large Area Space Telescope, wrapped in foil, was mechanically attached to the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope spacecraft on Dec. 8, 2006.

On Dec. 8, a crane lifted the Large Area Telescope (LAT) onto the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) spacecraft and brought the instrument a few meters and a giant leap closer to space.

In a clean room in Gilbert, Ariz., 15 people from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and the aerospace company that built the spacecraft, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, carefully guided the LAT into place and mechanically attached it to the spacecraft. The instrument weighs about 7,000 pounds, while the spacecraft is a diminutive 2,000 pounds. Packed into a Delta 2 rocket, the ensemble is scheduled to be launched into space this fall from Cape Canaveral.

"The integration of the LAT instrument onto the spacecraft is a major milestone for the GLAST program," said LAT project manager Ken Fouts. "The instrument performance has met or exceeded all expectations."

The instrument and spacecraft are now undergoing "full functional" tests, to make certain that everything responds correctly. GLAST program personnel from SLAC and the Naval Research Laboratory continue to work owl shifts in Arizona, to run tests and check the data the LAT generates when cosmic muons flow through it.

"We're trying to maximize the instrument run time here on Earth while we still have an opportunity to fix any problems we might find," said Fouts. "Once we're on orbit, we can still upload software patches if we need to, but the hardware is out of reach and must perform as designed."

Once the integration is complete in late February, the entire GLAST observatory (the spacecraft, the LAT and an instrument called the GLAST Burst Monitor) will go through environmental "shake and bake" testing in Arizona to ensure it's prepared for the rigors of launch and space.