European Space Agency's new LISA mission will measure gravitational waves in space

esa lisa mission 2034 mother spacecraft connected by lasers
Artist's impression of a Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission concept spacecraft. AEI/Milde Marketing/Exozet
After a lengthy period of delays, the European Space Agency (ESA) has finally announced that its Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission (LISA, for short) is ready to begin — though it won’t actually launch till 2034.

LISA is a space observatory that’s designed to measure gravitational waves, tiny ripples in the underlying fabric of the universe, caused by the motions of massive objects. Gravitational waves were first hypothesized by Albert Einstein way back in 1915, but they were only detected for the first time by the ground-based LIGO system in 2015.

“They’re a brand-new way of seeing the universe and extremely exciting,” Professor Mark McCaughrean, senior advisor for Science and Exploration at ESA, told Digital Trends. “Measuring gravitational waves from space will enable us to see whole new kinds of phenomena that can’t be seen by LIGO. For example, LISA will be able to see gravitational waves caused when two supermassive black holes, each perhaps millions of times more massive than our sun, spiral around each other and merge. This can happen when galaxies collide, and by observing these black hole mergers, we can learn about the history of galaxy evolution over the 13.8 billion history of the universe.”

LISA is actually three separate spacecraft in a triangle, each separated by roughly 2 million kilometers. The spacecraft are linked by high-powered lasers, and by accurately measuring the changes in distances between one another, they’ll be able to detect the gravitational waves as they sweep through the solar system.

While 2034 is still a long way off, though, McCaughrean said that plenty needs to be done between now and then.

“We still need to develop the telescopes and high-powered lasers that will link the spacecraft over 2 million kilometers along, and then we need to build and test the three very complicated spacecraft,” he said. “None of this will be easy, and such missions often take decades to put together. It’s also a question of money: We’re already building several other very exciting scientific space missions, including one which will be launched to Mercury next year called BepiColombo; one that’ll go close to the Sun called Solar Orbiter; one to measure the influence of dark matter and dark energy in the universe called Euclid; two to discover planets going around other stars called CHEOPS and PLATO; a mission to Jupiter and its icy moons called JUICE; and a new large X-ray observatory called Athena. Even in the best case, it’ll take us until 2030 to get the technology fully together and built. Working in space requires a lot of hard work and patience, and even though I’ll be retired by the time LISA flies, you can be very sure that I’ll be watching on with huge interest when it finally flies.”

Between projects like this, NASA designing futuristic chainmail for space missions, 3D printing on the International Space Station, and pretty much everything Elon Musk is doing with SpaceX, it certainly seems like we’re living on the cusp of a great era in space exploration.

Emerging Tech

Hope it doesn’t melt! Rocket to ISS carries vital supplies — including ice cream

A rocket has launched over Virginia's eastern shore, carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Inside the spacecraft are supplies for the ISS itself and the crew onboard, such as scientific equipment and food.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk receives FCC approval to launch over 7,500 satellites into space

Not surprisingly, SpaceX is thinking big with Starlink, its space-based global broadband network. This week, the company received FCC approval to launch 7,518 satellites into a low-Earth orbit for its satellite internet service.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX makes rocketry look easy, sticks yet another Falcon 9 landing

SpaceX is due to perform its latest Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing on November 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Here's how you can watch the proceedings live.
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.
Emerging Tech

Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts -- six times hotter than the center of the sun. The achievement could mark progress towards fusion as a clean energy source.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Product Review

Airselfie 2 may as well be a GoPro stapled to a drunk hummingbird

On paper, the Airselfie 2 is marketed as flying photographer that fits in your pocket and snaps selfies from the sky. Unfortunately it’s more like a HandiCam controlled by a swarm of intoxicated bumblebees
Emerging Tech

Warm up or cool down with the press of a button on the wrist-worn Embr

We review the Embr Wave, a personal heating and cooling wearable designed by a team of MIT engineers that’s now on Kickstarter. Our thoughts? It’s a little bit addictive.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Product Review

DJI has always been the king of drones, and the new Mavics are almost perfect

After flying both the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom for over a week, we’re convinced that these are two of the best drones that DJI has ever made.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…