Last year we brought the bad news that NASA had pulled back from the LISA project, an ambitious proposal to build a gravitational wave detector in space. The science reach of LISA would be amazing, teaching us a great deal about black holes, general relativity, and cosmology.
Fortunately, the European Space Agency did not give up on the idea, and has kept it in the queue of possibilities without actually saying they will do it. They began to design a somewhat down-scaled mission, now dubbed NGO for “New Gravitational wave Observatory.” (Hey, nobody said NASA had a monopoly on dopey acronyms.) NGO was put into the hopper along with two other proposals as part of a selection process to decide on the ESA’s next large-scale mission, dubbed L1 (“L” for “large”), as part of the Cosmic Vision program. It lost out to JUICE, a mission to Jupiter’s moons with admittedly a much cooler acronym as well as some very good science behind it.
But if there is an L1, that implies that someday there might be an L2, and NGO is still in the running to be Europe’s next big mission in astrophysics from space. Now comes an email passed around by the Topical Group on Gravitation of the American Physical Society, which seems to bring good news. To be honest, I’m not very good at decoding the bureaucratese in which the memo is written, but overall it seems optimistic, don’t you think? In particular, they are calling for scientists to join the GW-SAG (“Gravitational Wave Science Analysis Group”), with the admonition that the more people who are on the mailing list the more impressive the proposal seems to the higher-ups. (Only working scientists with an interest in gravitational waves should join, obviously.)
Here’s hoping that we build a gravitational-wave observatory in space in my lifetime.
After 15 months of fairly disappointing news, the dust finally settled and a clearer picture evolved. And I believe this picture is as encouraging as it can be these days.
Following the L1 selection in Europe, the European Space Agency immediately turned around and prepared for the next call for a large mission (L2). This call will be made as early as 2013 in the form of a Cornerstone call. A Cornerstone approach favors LISA. It deemphasizes the fact that LISA pathfinder will not have been launched by then; launch is still expected for 2014 and we expect results in 2015. The European Consortium is now preparing a proposal similar to the L1 proposal for this call. The schedule for implementation is also well aligned with even pessimistic future NASA budget assumptions and should allow to join the effort at least as a junior partner providing a robust overall level of funding. Now we need to show our world wide support for LISA!
At the Physics of the Cosmos Science Analysis Group (PHYSPag) meeting in DC (http://pcos.gsfc.nasa.gov/physpag/physpag-meeting-2012.php), we formed the Gravitational-wave Science Analysis Group (http://pcos.gsfc.nasa.gov/sags/gwsag.php) which will take over some of the responsibilities of the US-part of the former LISA International Science Team (LIST). However, in contrast to the LIST, the GW-SAG is completely open and I encourage everyone even remotely interested in the future of LISA to join the mailing list (http://pcos.gsfc.nasa.gov/sags/gwsag/gwsag-maillist.php). Numbers count; similar SAG’s in other areas exist within PHYSPag and the number of people signing up to the mailing lists are seen by the PCOS office as an indication of the interest and support within the scientific community. Signing up for the GW-SAG does not commit you to any work; the main role of the GW-SAG is to gather and distribute information within the community and between the community and the PCOS office. Most members of the GW-SAG will just receive occasional emails like this one, keeping them up to date on LISA. Others, who like to play a more active role, are encouraged to join the subgroups (Science, led by Neil Cornish; Technology, led by TBD; Advocacy, led by Scott Hughes) that we are in the process of setting up.
Go LISA and please join the mailing list!