ESA title
Science & Exploration

Hyper factsheet

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ESA / Science & Exploration / Space Science

Investigating the forces of nature

Name Hyper is an acronym for 'hyper-precision cold-atom interferometry in space'. This name refers to the new technology at the heart of the mission. Cold-atom laser and interferometry techniques could become as common and versatile as the traditional optical laser.

Description Hyper is a mission that will investigate two of the fundamental forces of nature: gravity and electromagnetism. For its investigation into gravity, Hyper will precisely map the fabric of space around the Earth, strictly testing Albert Einstein's theory of gravity: General Relativity. It will also investigate electromagnetism. Electromagnetism explains the phenomena that result in everyday electricity and magnetism. Hyper's investigations will consist of the most precise measurement of the so-called 'fine- structure constant'. This number describes the strength of the electromagnetic force and its value is currently in dispute.

Launch Beyond 2012, if approved.

Status Under feasibility assessment.

Journey Hyper will launch from Plesetsk, Russia, into an orbit around the Earth. This orbit will be polar, circular and have an altitude of 1000 kilometres. Experts have chosen this orbit because the gravitational effects that Hyper seeks will be strong enough to detect there.

Notes Hyper is a low-cost mission that could precipitate great changes on the Earth. It could provide a much better insight in how we consider gravity and electromagnetic force and could also mark the era of a new technology, the cold-atom laser.

The Lense-Thirring effect is a predicted consequence of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity. It forecasts that a rotating mass will produce a subtly different gravitational field from a stationary one. Hyper will be sensitive enough to make the first precise map of the Lense-Thirring effect around the Earth.

The technology of cold-atom lasers relies on collections of a few hundred million atoms being cooled to a temperature of just a few thousandths of millionths of a degree above absolute zero. At these temperatures, the atoms cease to behave like a gas and act together more like a wave. The development of cold-atom devices such as the cold-atom interferometers at the heart of Hyper, is exciting to many scientists.

Hyper's gravitational map of the 'fabric of space' may give physicists a way to merge General Relativity with the Quantum Theory, producing Quantum Gravity. This would be a huge achievement, as regards scientific theories at present.

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