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Coolest Lab Ever to be Launched in 2016

Early 2016 will see one cool lab launched into space. NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) will be sent to the International Space Station to study the ultra-cold quantum gases in the microgravity environment of the station.

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The CAL instrument utilizes commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware and software to enable a rapid development. This ensures launch to the ISS in early 2016. In the image above CAL is shown in its quad lock configuration. On the left are the electronics components, which are cooled with liquid heat exchangers to maintain a safe operational temperature. On the right is the science module and laser assembly. Fiber-optic coupled lasers to simplify optic-mechanical design. Forced convection with fans is used to cool the lasers and science module. On the right is the science module, which is the heart of the CAL instrument. It is encased in a magnetic shield to attenuate the magnetic field of the earth, which varies over the course of the orbit.Image courtesy of NASAAccording to the NASA website, being on the ISS “will enable research in a temperature regime and force free environment that is inaccessible to terrestrial laboratories.” That means interaction times as long as 20 seconds can be achieved, along with temperatures as low as 1 picokelvin, meaning that scientific investigators could observe new quantum phenomena.

"We're going to explore temperatures far below anything found naturally," said Rob Thompson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to United Press International.

The lab, which is designed to be used by multiple researchers and to be maintained and upgraded while in orbit, will also act as “a pathfinder experiment for future quantum sensors based on laser cooled atoms,” according to NASA’s website.

CAL’s initial mission is set to last one year with the possibility of being extended for an additional five years.

-       With files from United Press International and NASA