From ESA: “Looking out for lasers”

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Planck

6 February 2013

ESA’s laboratories are equipped with a huge range of measuring tools, but the most versatile remains the human eye – and it must be looked after. These protective goggles are worn while using lasers to align plasma-measuring probes, in preparation for test firings of space thrusters in ESA’s Propulsion Laboratory.

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Based at ESA’s technical centre ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the Propulsion Laboratory specialises in the testing of ion engines and other thrusters that operate outside Earth’s atmosphere.

These are test-fired in specialised vacuum chambers, with diagnostic devices – Faraday and Langmuir probes as well as retarding potential analysers – placed at precise points within the thruster’s plumes to gather data on its performance.

Engineer Giuditta Montesanti is pictured while preparing for a test: the thruster firings themselves take place out of sight, requiring no special protection. The Lab performs testing both for general research and development and in support of European space projects.

This spring will see testing of the MiniRIT micro-propulsion thruster for next year’s LISA Pathfinder mission. This mission, testing technologies for gravitational wave detection, will be the most precisely controlled spacecraft ever flown, requiring thrusters that are sensitive enough to push back against the force of incoming sunshine.”

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LISA Pathfinder will pave the way for a major ESA/NASA mission planned for the near future: LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), aimed at detecting gravitational waves generated by very massive objects such as black holes. Detecting gravitational waves will tell us more about the way space and time are interconnected.

See the full article here.

The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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