Kourou 02 December 2015
How was the universe formed? How does gravity work? The LISA Pathfinder mission, started officially on Dec. 3, 2015 with the launch of the probe from Kourou in French Guyana, will try to answer these and many other questions. LISA Pathfinder was built by ESA with the fundamental contribution of the ASI.
The mission has a very precise and ambitious task: to pave the way to building a space observatory of gravitational waves that should be fully completed by 2034 with the launch of the e-Lisa mission.
The purpose of the probe is to confirm with tests in space the existence of gravitational waves, thereby validating the technology necessary in an environment that cannot be reproduced in any laboratory on Earth.
The probe will be positioned at a distance of about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. It will contain two freely floating masses, shielded from outside forces, which will follow a path determined solely by the local gravitational field.
The probe position will be kept centered with respect to the test masses; in other words, the probe and the masses will fly in formation. The movement of the test masses will be measured with an accuracy never before experienced thanks to a laser interferometer with picometer resolution.
The contribution of Thales Alenia Space
Thales Alenia Space provided the X-band transponder, one of the key spacecraft units that will act as the unique interface between the satellite and the ground segment. It receives commands from the ground segment and transmits spacecraft telemetries, instrument information and ranging signals.Thales Alenia Space has also provided the Power Specific Check-Out Equipment hardware and software, simulating the solar panels and the batteries, and dedicated to test the spacecraft’s power sub-system during assembly, integration and validation phases.
The contribution of Selex ES
The LISA Pathfinder's sun sensor and micropropulsion system are being provided by Selex ES. They will allow the mission to reach the necessary drag-free conditions. Notably, the cold gas micropropulsion system will allow the ESA spacecraft to position itself and control its attitude (orientation) with extreme accuracy while Selex ES's digital solar sensors, called 'Smart Sun Sensors' will be used during launch and early orbit phase, transfer orbit phase and throughout mission operations in orbit around Lagrange point L1.
In addition, Selex ES has designed and manufactured the LISA Pathfinder's Photo Voltaic Assembly PVA for its solar panel that will provide the spacecraft with 900 W of installed power at 28% average efficiency to power the spacecraft's systems.
The contribution of Telespazio
Telespazio contributed to the LISA Pathfinder mission through its Telespazio VEGA Deutschland subsidiary, providing software solutions and guaranteeing operational services to the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Telespazio VEGA Deutschland developed the operational training simulator for the ESOC Flight Control Team during LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase), which will be used to perfect routine tasks while in orbit. Telespazio supports ESOC space operations with a technical team, providing engineering services for information systems and communications. Other teams are engaged in ground station services and flight dynamics control operations.