(Delmarvanow.com) -- For more than six years, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility has managed a project that will send an instrument measuring cosmic rays to the International Space Station this month.
Called the Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation, or CREAM, the experiment was taken aloft, via balloons, to an altitude of nearly 130,000 feet on six previous missions over Antarctica between 2004 and 2010.
Wallops is home to NASA's balloon program.
CREAM totaled 161 days during the course of those missions — the longest known period for any one balloon-borne experiment, according to NASA.
The instrument going to the space station will launch aboard the next SpaceX commercial resupply flight to the International Space Station, set to launch from Florida no earlier than Aug. 13.
"The Wallops team was responsible for the system-level integration and environmental test program of the CREAM payload," said Keith Koehler of NASA Wallops Flight Facility's Office of Communications. "It oversaw the technical and programmatic aspects of the mission, such as systems engineering, safety assurance, systems integration and launch vehicle integration activities."
The project manager is Linda Thompson.
The team at Wallops provided project management, engineering, quality assurance, business management and scheduling for the project, Kohler said.
Additionally, Wallops "served as the prime project interface with the NASA Johnson Space Center International Space Station Program Office, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and SpaceX," he said.
Once at the space station, CREAM will sample cosmic rays — fast-moving, high-energy particles that come from outside the solar system.
The data collected could provide clues to understanding the origin of cosmic rays.
Eun-Suk Seo, a physicist at the University of Maryland, College Park, is the principal investigator for the project.
During a teleconference on Tuesday, Seo said the instrument is about "the size of a large refrigerator" and weighs about 1.3 metric tons.
It will carry two new instruments, in addition to refurbished instruments from previous balloon missions.
The space station version will be able to gather 10 times more data and will experience less interference because it will be outside Earth's atmosphere.
"We have been anxiously waiting for this launch for the past two years," said Seo.
The instruments included in CREAM measure charges of cosmic rays from hydrogen up through iron nuclei, she said.
The instrument will be on the space station for at least three years, according to NASA.
Jason Link, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County scientist and co-investigator on the project, said CREAM shows the power of NASA's balloon program as a testing ground for space instruments and a training ground for researchers.
"A balloon mission can go from an idea in a scientist's head to a flying payload in about five years," Link said in an Aug. 8 article on NASA's website. "In fact, many scientists who design experiments for space missions get their start in ballooning."