L3Harris Lays Foundation for First Space-Based Gravitational Wave Observatory
PROVIDING SCIENTISTS A VIEW INTO THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME
Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his 1916 general theory of relativity. By detecting gravitational waves, scientists can identify “ripples” in spacetime created by major astrological events. From an observatory in orbit around the Sun, far away from the noise of Earth’s environment on the ground, scientists can observe the birth of galaxies, supermassive blackholes colliding and the formation and evolution of compact binaries in the Milky Way Galaxy.
The level of complexity and precision required to detect these gravitational wave signals is what makes the European Space Agency’s Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) initiative so ambitious.
An Observatory Like No Other
Most space-based telescopes, like Hubble, are comprised of a single spacecraft that detects light and photons and relays images. Not LISA.
Scheduled to launch in the 2030s, LISA is comprised of a constellation of three spacecraft in an equilateral triangular, 2.5 million kilometers apart, in the same orbit as the Earth around the Sun but trailing the Earth by 20 degrees in orbital phase. LISA detects gravitational waves by measuring the displacements between pairs of satellites with laser beams sent through optical telescopes on each satellite.
NASA is a major collaborator in the ESA-led mission and L3Harris was up for the exciting and complex challenge — design the Engineering Development Unit Telescope (EDUT) for LISA. Not surprisingly, the proposal came with a unique set of requirements, including maximum resiliency to thermal changes. This means no metal or composite materials can be used for the project.
“This is a new approach for us, however our talented engineering team has a very deep understanding of the problem and put forth the best solution. This is L3Harris’ sweet spot – executing truly complex programs,” said L3Harris’ Program Manager for LISA EDUT, Lynn Allen.
L3Harris’ capacity to design and build the majority of the solution internally at the Rochester, NY facility provides a high level of control. The ability to own the whole solution is a testament to the strength of L3Harris’ vertical integration capabilities. The company’s profound understanding of the challenge and realistic approach to solving it is what ultimately won the contract.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center gave L3Harris’ proposal the highest rating possible on a multitude of factors, including technical acceptability, value added, schedule compliance and credibility, and cost realism and credibility. Thanks to L3Harris’ proven track record of contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, NASA rated L3Harris’ past performance with a high level of confidence and highly relevant.
L3Harris has supported many firsts when it comes to space exploration and science. L3Harris enabled the technology that brought us the first photos of Earth from the moon, extreme close-ups of the lunar surface and images of Mars’ surface. Now, L3Harris’ technology will empower scientists to discover parts of the universe that were previously invisible.