Artist’s impression of the launch of LISA Pathfinder, ESA’s technology demonstration mission that will pave the way for future gravitational-wave observatories in space.
Scheduled to lift off on a Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in December 2015, LISA Pathfinder will operate at the Lagrange point L1, 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun. After launch, the spacecraft will take about eight weeks to reach its operational orbit around L1.
The Vega rocket is designed to take small payloads into low-Earth orbit. The animation shows the rocket shortly after launch, rising above our planet and releasing the fairing.
Vega will place the spacecraft onto an elliptical orbit with perigee at 200 km, apogee at 1540 km and angled at about 6.5° to the equator. Then, LISA Pathfinder will continue on its own, using its separable propulsion module to perform a series of six manoeuvres and gradually raise the apogee of the initial orbit.
Eventually, LISA Pathfinder will cruise towards its final orbiting location, discarding the propulsion system along the way, a month after the last burn. Once in orbit around L1, it will begin its six months of operations devised to demonstrate key technologies for space-based observation of gravitational waves.