Enlarge / A view of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the station. (credit: NASA)
Launched to the International Space Station in 2011 on the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has quietly been collecting data during the last six years, observing more than 100 billion cosmic ray events.

Although it has yet to produce any major scientific findings, physicists believe the steady accumulation of data will eventually yield insights about dark matter and other cosmic mysteries.
But for that to happen, the instrument has to continue to take data.
In recent months, scientists monitoring the $2 billion AMS instrument have noticed an increase in the “degradation” of one of several pumps that operate its thermal cooling system.

The AMS has redundant systems, however, and could switch to a different pump if needed.

Nevertheless, there appears to be an overall concern that if this degradation is not an isolated incident, it could begin to affect other cooling pumps within the AMS thermal system. (Despite several requests for information in recent weeks from Ars, NASA officials have remained cagey about the overall threat this problem presents to the instrument.

The scope of repairs they’re contemplating suggests that the problem could eventually become serious, however.)
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