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LISA Mission High-level Meeting in Bucharest Romanian contributions to the first space-based gravitational wave observatory

on 07 June 2019

On 14-15 May 2019, the Institute of Space Science (ISS) of the Măgurele Physics Platform and the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) organised a high-level meeting in Bucharest, for the representatives of the national project leaders for the LISA Mission. Space agency representatives from 11 European Space Agency (ESA) Member States as well as from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) attended the event.

The LISA mission (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) was selected to be the third large-class mission of ESA (the largest type of space mission supported by ESA) and it will be the first space-based gravitational wave observatory. Scheduled for launching in 2034, the LISA mission will consist of three spacecraft positioned in a triangular formation, at a distance of 2.5 million km one fromanother, which will form a high precision laser interferometer. The mission’s goal is to detect gravitational waves originating from astronomical events, such as the collision of two black holes.

2019 06 Schematic LISA triangle

Artist’s impression of the trio of satellites. Credit: AEI / MM / exozet

Mission management topics (financial and human resources, task allocation etc.) were discussed at the meeting and the national contributions of the countries involved were presented.

Dr. Piso represents the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) in the LISA National Agency Board, being one of the pioneers of gravitational radiation research in the ’80s.

The LISA collaboration was launched in 2018 and Romania has been part of this consortium since the beginning. Currently, over 20 researchers and engineers from three laboratories of the Institute of Space Science (ISS) of the Măgurele Physics Platform are involved in the collaboration.

ISS leads Romania’s involvement in this mission, which is focused on three main areas.

Development of key hardware components

The Institute of Space Science (ISS) committed to participate in the development of a precise positioning system for the three satellites ­– the CAS system (Constellation Acquisition Sensor), an essential component for correct observations. The positioning will be done with a laser system, each satellite sending a laser beam to each other. The received signal will determine the reorientation of the satellites in the right position. Currently, a project run by Dr. Eugeniu Mihnea Popescu is ongoing, with the goal to build and test a prototype for this detection system in the laboratory. The project is supported by the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) through the PRODEX programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). 

2019 06 LPF and GWs

Artist’s impression of one of the three LISA satellites, using laser beams to detect gravitational waves. Credit: AEI/MM/exozet; Gravitational wave simulation: NASA/C. Henze

Science, data processing and artificial intelligence

In this area, ISS brings a number of contributions: simulations and scientific studies, signal analysis and data processing. By simulating the astrophysical processes that generate gravitational waves from, for example, black holes collisions, the ISS team will determine the key elements for understanding what kind of signals will be detected and what are the technological requirements for the detection equipment. ISS will also develop catalogues of black holes masses to estimate the number of events that could be detected by the LISA mission. 

2019 06 Merging black holes

Artist's impression of two black holes spiralling towards each other. Credit: ESA–C.Carreau

The ISS team coordinated by Dr. Laurențiu Ioan Caramete leads one of the Working Packages of the collaboration, called „Low-latency pipeline”. The goal of this package is to obtain a much faster analysis of the data collected by the satellites, in order to readily send alerts to future gravitational astronomy experiments and observatories, with the purpose of making complementary observations of the same phenomenon. This collaboration between different space - and ground - based infrastructures is part of a new field of astronomy called “multi-messenger astronomy”.

For this purpose, the ISS team was awarded an ESA project to develop data analysis tools using a neuronal network, an artificial intelligence technique that could bring key innovations in astronomy. The technology that the ISS wants to develop consists of a network-type software package, formed of neurons that are trained to recognise certain types of signals (gravitational wave types). Moreover, the ISS team wants to run such a neural network on a dedicated hardware (FPGA), which has superior computing specifications as compared to a regular processing unit.

Computing centre for the LISA Mission at Măgurele

Another ISS contribution comes on the computing part, coordinated by Dr. Sorin Ion Zgură, the Director of the Institute and a delegate member in the LISA National Agency Board. The ISS will provide the Collaboration with a dedicated computing centre that will perform data analysis, simulations and provide data storage. For this purpose, the ISS twill take full advantage of the experience gained in its long-term collaboration with CERN.

Through all these components, Romania brings a significant contribution to a revolutionary mission that will bring new insights about the dark Universe, black holes and the Big Bang, helping us to better understand the beginning, evolution and structure of the Universe.

2019 06 LISA Pathfinder in space

Artist's impression of the LISA mission. Credit: ESA–C.Carreau