ESA’s Airbus-Built Lisa Pathfinder Spacecraft Completes Tests

The European Space Agency’s gravitational-wave detection technology demonstrator, known as the LISA Pathfinder, has recently completed a series of tests in Germany. Now, it is preparing to leave Germany for Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. In November, the Lisa Pathfinder is scheduled for lift-off aboard a European Vega rocket, where it will travel 1.5 million kilometers away from the earth and towards the sun. The spacecraft will be used to test instrumentation and technologies that will help to observe and accurately measure gravitational waves.

The final testing and integration of this satellite was carried out by Airbus Defense and Space at IABG’s test center in Ottobrunn, near Munich, Germany. Over the past few months, Airbus has been performing extensive tests and final integration of the spacecraft.

This is an extremely challenging mission that will pave the way for future space-based projects to observe gravitational waves, opening a new window to explore the cosmos, said Paul McNamara, a project scientist for the European Space Agency. Gravitational waves are an entirely fresh and different way to study the universe, providing an important complement to the well-established approach of astronomy, based on observing the light emitted by celestial bodies.

The spacecraft will be equipped with the Lisa Technology Package, which features a laser interferometer which can measure changes in distance between two precision-engineered gold-platinum test masses. Upon entering the orbit, the two test masses will be discharged from a locking mechanism, at which point the motion inside of the spacecraft will be measured by electrostatic sensors and laser interferometer. In-orbit testing will also be monitored by other technologies such as a drag-free control system from NASA and two types of micro-propulsion systems.

Lisa Pathfinder is a remarkable project to test the ultra-high precision technologies that will be needed to detect gravitational waves in space, said Michael Menking, head of Airbus Defense and Space earth observation, navigation, and science programs.

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