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LISA Pathfinder
Organization European Space Agency
Major contractors EADS Astrium Ltd.
Mission type Proof of concept
Orbits Halo orbit around Earth-Sun L1 Point[1]
Launch date Scheduled: 1 March 2010[2]
Launch vehicle Vega or Rockot[2]
Mission duration Nominal: 1 yr[2]
Mass 1900 kg of which 1100 kg is propellant[2]
Main instruments 35 cm Laser interferometer and Disturbance Reduction System

LISA Pathfinder is the revised name for SMART-2, an ESA space probe to be launched in 2012. SMART stands for Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology. The aim of the LISA Pathfinder is to test technologies needed for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, a joint NASA/ESA gravitational wave detector. It will contain one arm of the LISA interferometer, shortened from 5 Gm (5 million km) to 35 cm. In particular, it will verify:

  • Drag-free attitude control of a spacecraft with two proof masses,
  • The feasibility of laser interferometry in the desired frequency band (which is not possible on the surface of Earth), and
  • The reliability and longevity of the various components—capacitive sensors, microthrusters, lasers and optics.


Spacecraft design

LISA Pathfinder is being built by EADS Astrium Ltd. of Stevenage, UK under contract to the European Space Agency. It will carry a European 'LISA Test Package' comprising inertial sensors, interferometer and associated instrumentation as well as two drag-free control systems: a European one using field emission electric propulsion (FEEP) thrusters, and a US-built 'Disturbance Reduction System' using slightly different sensors and colloid thrusters that use ionised droplets of a colloid accelerated in an electric field.



The LISA Test Package is being integrated by Astrium Germany, but the instruments and components are being supplied to Astrium by contributing institutions across Europe. The noise rejection technical requirements on the interferometer are very stringent, which means that the physical response of the interferometer to changing environmental conditions, such as temperature, must be minimised.


The spacecraft will first be launched into an elliptical LEO parking orbit. From there it will execute a short burn each time perigee is passed, slowly raising the apogee closer to the intended halo orbit around the Earth–Sun L1 point.[1][2] If this mission is successful, it is hoped that the LISA mission will be launched a few years later, current estimates are around 2018.

Spacecraft operations

Mission control for the LISA Pathfinder mission will be at ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany with science and technology operations controlled from ESAC in Madrid, Spain.[3]



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