LISA Pathfinder proves space-based gravity wave detection technology

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Engineers have announced that the gravity wave detection technology being tested in orbit by Europe’s LISA Pathfinder works.

To show that the necessary sensitivity is possible, LISA Pathfinder measures the distance between two masses, both of which are inside the spacecraft. “We’ve shrunk the arm of a large gravitational wave antenna to 35 centimeters so we could show it works properly,” Paul McNamara, LISA Pathfinder project scientist, told the press conference.

LISA Pathfinder was launched in December 2015 to a spot 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. When its test masses where first released to float free in February, “the relief was unbelievable,” McNamara says. Science operations began on 1 March and on that first day the team was able to measure distance variations between the masses much smaller than LISA Pathfinder’s mission requirements, Stefano Vitale, the mission’s principle investigator, told reporters. After a month, the variations were even smaller, “very close to [eLISA] requirements,” he says.

They now hope to launch an array of at least three such spacecraft by the mid-2030s.

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