Archive for LISA

Bad News for Astrophysics from ESA

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by telescoper

Just a quick post to pass on the news (which I got from Steinn Sigurdsson’s blog) that the ESA Executive (see correction in comments below) Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) of the European Space Agency (ESA) has made a recommendation as to the next large mission to be flown. The short list consisted of a mission to Jupiter’s moons (JUICE), an X-ray observatory (ATHENA), and a gravitational wave observatory (NGO). The last two of these are severely de-scoped versions of missions (IXO and LISA respectively) that had to be re-designed in the aftermath of decisions made in the US decadal review not to get involved in them.

Not unexpectedly, the winner is JUICE. Barring a rejection of this recommendation by the ESA Science Programme Committee (SPC) this will be the next big thing for ESA space science.

The School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University has a considerable involvement in gravitational wave physics, so the decision is disappointing for us but not entirely surprising. It’s not such a big blow either, as we are mainly involved in ground-based searches such as LIGO.

The biggest local worry will be for the sizeable community of X-ray astronomers in the UK. With no big new facilities likely for well over a decade one wonders how the expertise in this area can be sustained into the future, even if LOFT is selected as one of the next medium-sized missions. Or, given that STFC funding is already spread extremely thin, perhaps this is time for the UK to organize a strategic withdrawal from X-ray astronomy?

Gravity waves goodbye to LISA?

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on April 8, 2011 by telescoper

It seems that we’re not allowed to have any good news these days without a bit of bad to go with it. This week it has emerged here and there that the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (better known as NASA) is pulling the plug on one of the most exciting space missions on its drawing board. Feeling the pressure of budget constraints and a ballooning overspend on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA has decided not to participate further in the Laser Interferometric Space Antenna, a.k.a. LISA. The project teams working on LISA have been disbanded, and the shutters have been pulled down on a project which would have revolutionised astrophysics by opening up new possibilities of observing astronomical objects using gravitational waves, rather than electromagnetic radiation.

This does not mean that LISA is necessarily completely dead. For one thing, it was always planned to be a partnership between NASA and its European counterpart ESA (the European Space Agency); you can find ESA’s LISA page here. In fact a technological demonstrating mission LISA-Pathfinder, operated by ESA, is scheduled for launch in 2013.
It remains possible that ESA will proceed on its own with some version of LISA, although given its own financial constraints it is unlikely that it will be able to fund the full original mission concept. The best we can hope for, therefore, is probably some slimmed-down low-budget version and perhaps an even later launch date.

I still hold out some hope that LISA might come out of mothballs when gravitational waves are actually detected. This may well be accomplished by Advanced LIGO, a ground-based interferometric system based in the states, although it has to be said that gravitational waves have been “on the brink of detection” for at least 30 years and still haven’t actually been found. When detection does become a reality it might galvanise NASA into finding room in its budget again.

This news will be a particularly concern for the sizeable Gravitational Physics group here in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University. However, LISA was very much in the planning and development stages so it won’t impact their current work. I haven’t had the chance to discuss the news about LISA with members of this group, so I’d be interested to receive comments from them, or indeed anyone else who knows more about what NASA’s decision may or not mean for the future of gravitational wave physics.


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