Mission to probe the origin of the Universe gets the go-ahead

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The Science Programme Committee of the European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that one of its next missions will be to probe the 'Gravitational Universe' by establishing a gravitational wave observatory in space. It will build upon technologies already developed at the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) in Scotland, for the ESA’s Laser Interferometry Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder probe due for release in 2015.

The proposed mission, known as the evolved Laser Interferometry Space Antenna (eLISA), is planned to launch in 2034. It will build upon technologies already developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow’s IGR for the ESA’s LISA Pathfinder probe. The LISA Pathfinder, due for launch in 2015, will demonstrate key eLISA technologies in space, including the ultra-sensitive optical measurement system built at the University of Glasgow.

Dr Harry Ward, who leads the University of Glasgow LPF and eLISA work, said: ‘For the UK, the decision is great news. The significant UK Space Agency investment in developing the LISA Pathfinder payload will now bear fruit, and with eLISA, we can look forward to a rich scientific output from what promises to be one of the most important astronomical observatories of our time.'

Alongside investigating the origins of the Universe, observation of gravitational waves will provide powerful insight into the fundamentals of gravity, and into Einstein's theory that predicted the waves in 1916. By observing how waves from early black holes are stretched out as they move toward us through the expanding Universe, the observatory will even shed light on the mystery of dark energy.

Between 2014 and 2020, eLISA technology will be optimised, followed by the final mission selection and commitment of international partners. In 2024, the industrial implementation will begin, with the payload supplied by a European consortium which also provides the flight hardware for LISA Pathfinder.