LISA Pathfinder factsheet

Preparing the technology to test gravitational-wave detection in space

Name LISA Pathfinder’s name clearly indicates the role of precursor that this mission plays with respect to the forthcoming LISA mission.

Description LISA Pathfinder will test the technologies needed for ESA's future mission LISA, which aims at improving our knowledge of the universe by detecting gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s General Relativity in 1916. 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, called LISA Technology Package (LTP), developed by the European scientific community using national funds 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 2015.

Status Astrium UK has been selected as the Prime Contractor, and Astrium Germany leads the consortium for the European payload. After the successful completion of the Mission Preliminary Design Review in February 2006, the mission has then entered the development phase.

Journey LISA Pathfinder will travel from the Earth to one of the so-called 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 at 1.5 million kilometres away from the Earth in the direction of the Sun. The operational phase will last six months but it could be extended up to one year.

Notes LISA Pathfinder will use extremely sophisticated technologies in the field of 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: 5 June 2013

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