LISA Pathfinder factsheet

Preparing the technology to test gravitational-wave detection in space

Name The ‘LISA’ in the mission's name stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, an earlier concept for a spaceborne observatory for gravitational waves, and now used to describe a class of missions based on the original LISA concept. LISA Pathfinder will test key technology for future LISA-like space missions to study the gravitational Universe.

Description LISA Pathfinder will test the technologies needed for future space mission aiming at improving our knowledge of the universe by detecting gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity in 1915. In doing this, LISA Pathfinder will make key measurements of the fabric of spacetime, which will be a crucial component for future fundamental missions as well.

The mission will fly a European payload, the LISA Technology Package (LTP), developed by the European scientific community using national funding from seven Member States (Italy, France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland) and from ESA. An American instrument will be hosted on board, the Disturbance Reduction System (DRS), developed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Launch The launch is scheduled to take place in late 2015.

Status Airbus Defence & Space Stevenage was prime contractor, and Airbus Defence & Space Friedrichshafen led the consortium for the European payload. After completion of the Mission Preliminary Design Review in February 2006, the mission entered the development phase.

Journey LISA Pathfinder will travel from Earth to one of the ‘Lagrangian points’. In these five special places the balance between the gravitational pull from the Sun and Earth allows an object to be stationary in the Sun–Earth system. A spacecraft near one of these points can stay there for long periods of time without the need for major manoeuvres.

LISA Pathfinder will orbit the L1 point, located some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction of the Sun. The operational phase will last six months but could be extended up to one year.

Notes LISA Pathfinder will use extremely sophisticated technologies in gravitational sensors, electric propulsion, and laser ranging. The purpose of the mission is to validate the technologies required to detect extremely small movements, a science known as ‘precision metrology’.

LISA Pathfinder will prove the techniques and equipment to detect the relative movement of two solid blocks that are freely floating in space to an accuracy of 10 picometres (1 picometre is equal to one millionth of a millionth of a metre).

Last update: 16 October 2015

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