LISA Pathfinder: a new way of observing the Universe
LISA Pathfinder is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission that aims to test in space the technology needed for the detection of low-frequency gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein in the Theory of General Relativity. The launch of the spaceborne observatory is scheduled in November 2015 and could open a new observation window on the cosmos, allowing the observation of celestial phenomena and objects never observed so far.
Our knowledge of the Universe and its phenomena is based on the observation of electromagnetic waves, such as visible light, radio, X-rays or gamma rays. LISA Pathfinder is the new European Space Agency (ESA) mission intended to pave the way to a completely different method of observing the Universe, detecting the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and represented by ripples in space-time.
LISA Pathfinder will test the detection of these phenomena through the first miniature spaceborne gravitational wave observatory with the aim of proving key technology needed for a larger spaceborne gravitational wave observatory to be sent into space in the near future. The mission, conducted with a significant Italian contribution, has successfully concluded the trial phase at the IABG centre in Ottobrunn, Germany, and the satellite is scheduled for launch by the end of November 2015.
The “heart” of the mission will be the LISA Technology Package (LTP): a system consisting of two masses in the form of 46 mm cubes made of gold–platinum, each suspended in its own vacuum container, and by a system of sensors that will measure their motion in gravitational free-fall with unprecedented accuracy using laser interferometry. The LISA Technology Package was developed by a consortium of European research centres. Italy was responsible for the definition of the overall architecture of the LTP and for developing the inertial sensors produced by CGS SpA ‒ General Space Company ‒ funded by the Italian Space Agency and developed by researchers at the University of Trento and the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN).
“Detecting gravitational waves ‒ explained Stefano Vitale from the University of Trento and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), Principal Investigator of the LISA Technology Package (LTP) ‒ will allow us to study extreme phenomena and objects that are difficult to observe, such as black holes. It will also make it possible to map the stratigraphy of the Universe and reconstruct the origin of the galaxies and black holes that we can observe today”, Vitale added. The LISA Pathfinder satellite will be brought into orbit by a VEGA rocket, Europe’s small satellite launcher, with Italy contributing 65% of the costs.
LISA Pathfinder mission (ESA)