Update on the LISA mission
From the ESA intranet, an interview with European LISA Project Manager Alberto Gianolio
This year, 2010, is shaping up to be an exciting one for the LISA team. Following the completion of the Design Consolidation Review at ESTEC, the team is now turning their attention to preparations for the Cosmic-Vision L-class down-selection process. Alberto Gianolio, LISA Project Manager, gives a snapshot of the status of the mission.
At what stage is LISA now?
“The scientific community has studied LISA for more than two decades, and ESA even started to look at a gravitational sensor back in 1998.Two years later ESA created a study team for LISA and it was clear from early on that such a technologically ambitious mission would need to be done in an international context. Since 2005 ESA and NASA are cooperating on the Mission Formulation phase, which means that teams across the Atlantic have jointly been defining the mission architecture in a way that will allow the two Agencies to negotiate responsibilities for different elements of the mission at an appropriate time. During this period we have also had an industrial contract with Astrium (Germany) to work on the design of the mission and the mission requirements.
You may know that LISA Pathfinder will flight-test a number of ground-breaking technologies, such as laser interferometry and drag-free operation, that have been developed to enable the LISA mission. During the past few years we have also been busy with additional technology development activities which are designed to mature some of these technologies to bridge the step between LISA Pathfinder and LISA. Most recently, last week, we held the Design Consolidation Review here at ESTEC. More than 30 experts from ESA, NASA, Industry and the scientific community came together to review the progress that has been made and to prepare the completion of the mission formulation phase, which will take place around July this year.”
What are the next steps for LISA?
“LISA is one of three Cosmic Vision L-class (large) missions in competition for a launch in 2020. It was originally included in the Horizon 2000 Programme. When the Cosmic Vision plan was devised, LISA was included as a candidate L-class category mission. The next step for all three “L mission candidates” will be a down-selection to be performed by the ESA Science Programme Committee. At that stage a decision will be made regarding which missions continue in the Definition phase, which is commonly known as phase B1. Between now and then we will be consolidating all the work that has been done until now and finishing off the last few topics, like the optical ground support equipment and end-to-end modelling of the mission.”
What are the biggest challenges at this moment for the project?
The mission is in very good shape. The necessary technology is maturing at a good pace and there are no new inventions required. LISA Pathfinder is in place to provide the inflight demonstration of several key technologies. So we are in a very good position. This is important because this mission will open a completely new window on the Universe. We know that the consequences for astrophysics and physics will be enormous. This is definitely an opportunity not to be missed!
(4 February 2010, ESA Agency News; with slight edits)