The Possible Contamination – Not A Threat

A new instrument to detect lightning was mounted outside the ISS (International Space Station). But the scientists said on Tuesday that there might be a little issue on the performance of the instrument’s sensor due to possible contamination in the upper stage of Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX which was launched on 2nd April into orbit.

An instrument which was developed in Denmark and funded by the ESA, Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, was fitted on an observation post outside the European Columbus lab module of the space station on Friday. It was then powered up for commission campaign and calibration which will last 6 weeks. 

They activated the payload faster than expected and the final checkout of sensors and computers was done by the weekend as stated by Ole Hartnack, ASIM project manager. He also told that the researchers are now examining the possible contamination on cameras which will be used for detecting optical flashes during lightning. But the contamination on the Modular Multispectral Imaging Array of ASIM, which is a pair of optical cameras that are light sensitive, is not expected to affect the scientific performance of the instrument. 

The scientists have been observing for possible contamination of the above mentioned MMIA cameras from the second stage engine of the Falcon 9. Depending on the information they have received from SpaceX researchers said that there is nothing to worry about. And also every camera has a decontamination system if any issues regarding the performance are encountered. Also, the science team ensured that there wouldn’t be any issues as the optical lenses have decontamination heaters  

The possible contamination we talked about must have come from the second stage of Falcon 9, from propellant venting after the shutdown of the engine. The ASIM instrument which weighed about 314 kilograms was launched from Cape Canaveral on 2nd April. The instrument was fitted inside a cargo craft of the SpaceX.  The platform also contained exposure experiments and spare pump (refurbished) for the coolant system of the space station. 

There were some doubts among people when SpaceX decided to call off a launch of Falcon 9 on Monday. SpaceX confirmed that there were no performance issues on any of the payloads which were launched inside the trunk section of the Dragon on 2nd April and the call off as not related to this mission. Apart from observing the thunderstorm activities the instrument launched could also detect the lightning formation of meteors entering the atmosphere of Earth.