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The success of LISA Pathfinder during the past year to test the technology for building an orbiting gravitational wave detector has now made it possible for Europe to approve construction of the full scale telescope, set to launch in the 2030s.
The LISA Pathfinder mission, launched in late 2015, beat its precision target by a factor of 1,000 and quieted critics who have doubted its potential, says project scientist Paul McNamara, an astrophysicist at ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “This is not the impossible task that some people believed it was.”
Currently set to fly in 2034, the full-scale Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will be the space analogue of the Laser Interfero-meter Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), two machines in the United States — each with a pair of 4-kilometre-long arms — that first detected the ripples by ‘hearing’ the merger of two black holes. LISA’s three probes will fly in a triangle, millions of kilometres apart, making the mission sensitive to much longer gravitational waves, such as the ripples produced by the collisions of even larger black holes.
The article also notes that the European Space Agency also approved two other large missions, one to launch in 2022 and go the moons of Jupiter, another an X-ray observatory that will launch in 2028.