Today, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Science Programme Committee (SPC) has given the green light for LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna to progress to the construction phase.
The UK has a major involvement in the LISA mission, with significant contributions to the instrument hardware and the on-ground data processing and analysis, supported by funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), which has agreed participation in the mission in principle.
For many years the UK has been at the forefront of modelling gravitational wave sources and developing sophisticated analysis techniques for the mission and we are thrilled to be working with our colleagues from all over the world to make LISA a success.Professor Alberto Vecchio, University of Birmingham.
The University of Birmingham will be leading the UK contribution to the LISA Science Ground Segment in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, the University of Portsmouth, the University of Southampton, and the University of Cambridge. This will include developing robust methods for data analysis and simulation, extracting gravitational-wave signals from the data and understanding their properties, all of which will be essential to maximising the scientific return of the mission.
The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, will lead the UK’s hardware contribution to LISA - the design and construction of the ultra-precision optical benches that sit at the heart of each LISA spacecraft.
Alberto Vecchio, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Birmingham, and Principal Investigator of the UK contribution to the LISA Science Ground Segment, said: “LISA is a unique space observatory to precisely map the evolution of the Universe by tracing the pairing up and mergers of black holes from thousands to millions of solar masses. LISA will unveil these cosmic dances all the way to the edge of the Universe and discover tens of thousands of compact objects we know nothing about today. This is going to be a breathtaking journey across the cosmos with so many surprises.
“For many years the UK has been at the forefront of modelling gravitational wave sources and developing sophisticated analysis techniques for the mission and we are thrilled to be working with our colleagues from all over the world to make LISA a success.”
This is a truly international collaboration, and it is exciting for the UK to play a pivotal role in developing the analytical models and tools to analyse these gravitational wave signals.Dr Geraint Pratten, University of Birmingham
LISA will be the first gravitational wave observatory in space and will consist of three spacecraft launched on the same rocket. During their 18-month voyage to their new home 60-70 million kilometres from Earth, the spacecraft will diverge until they reach their final positions forming an equilateral triangle 2.5 million kilometres from each other. It will detect gravitational radiation in the yet unexplored window between 0.1 mHz and 1 Hz, waves that cannot be detected by ground-based detectors.
Dr Geraint Pratten, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “The adoption of LISA is a groundbreaking moment in astronomy. LISA will allow us to observe a wealth of new phenomena, including the mergers of black holes that can be billions of times heavier than our sun. It will revolutionise our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies throughout the Universe. This is a truly international collaboration, and it is exciting for the UK to play a pivotal role in developing the analytical models and tools to analyse these gravitational wave signals.”
This is an exciting step for the LISA mission. LISA will enable us to observe gravitational waves at frequencies that we have never been able to detect before.Dr Hannah Middleton, University of Birmingham
Unique to LISA, is the detection of gravitational waves from stellar black holes swirling around massive ones in galactic nuclei to probe the geometry of spacetime and test gravity in its foundations. LISA will also detect binary and multiple compact objects in our Milky Way galaxy to tell us about stellar binary evolution, and "see" the Galaxy beyond the Galactic Centre, including objects invisible to all other astronomical instruments.
Dr Hannah Middleton, a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, and Deputy Project Manager of the LISA Distributed Data Processing Centre, said: “This is an exciting step for the LISA mission. LISA will enable us to observe gravitational waves at frequencies that we have never been able to detect before. There are types of signals we expect to see, but hopefully there will be some surprises too."
The LISA Consortium is a large international collaboration that combines the resources and expertise of scientists in countries all over the world. Together with ESA, its member states, and NASA, the LISA Consortium is working to bring the LISA Mission to fruition.
Karsten Danzmann, Lead of the LISA Consortium, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz University Hannover said: “With the Adoption decision, LISA is now firmly established in ESA’s programme of missions. We are looking forward to realising LISA in a close collaboration of ESA, NASA, ESA member states and the wider LISA Consortium.”
Carole Mundell, Director of Science at the ESA, said: “This trailblazing mission will take us to the next level in a really exciting area of space science and keep European scientists at the forefront of gravitational wave research.”