Launching tonight!

Since yesterday, discussions were focused on understanding what was wrong with the rocket and whether we were going to launch… stress and worry could be felt. The problem is that when putting LISAPathfinder into orbit, a part of the rocket upper stage might be a little too cold to function correctly.

This morning we discovered Guyana wildlife by visiting the zoo. On the way back, we noted an important activity of the Foreign Legion which made us think that something was happening. Indeed, before a launch, the army secures the whole site.

During lunch, Stefano Vitale, the scientist leading of the mission, who was next to us received a SMS from Paul McNamara, the ESA Project Scientist: “We go for launch”. The information was confirmed 30 minute later through an announcement made by the officials in charge of launches at ESA and Arianespace: the thermal properties of the last stage of the VEGA rocket had been thoroughly studied and showed no critical issue. LISAPathfinder will launch tonight at 1:04 local time (4:04 GMT). General applause! Next act tonight.

The announcement that LISAPathfinder is ready for launch

The announcement that LISAPathfinder is ready for launch

Antoine Petiteau

Antoine Petiteau  Kourou December 2,  15:00, local time

Launch postponed



Today just before lunch, we learned that the launch will not take place tonight. There seems to be a thermal problem on the AVUM, the upper stage of VEGA which ensures the positioning on the right orbit. The teams of Vega and Arianespace are giving themselves 24 hours to evaluate whether this is critical or not. For the time being, the launch is planned for December 3 at 04:04 GMT.

Antoine Petiteau


Antoine          December 1, 17:00 GMT

Visit of the facilities of the Space Centre


Ariane 5 launch pad

This morning we toured for 3 hours the facilities of the Space Centre. We started with a viewpoint on the Vega and the Ariane 5 launch pads. The Vega rocket is still in its building : it will only leave it 2h 40 minutes before the launch. It is rather moving to think that the LISAPathfinder is in front of us, waiting to be sent into space.




We then visited the bunker which hosts the control rooms of Ariane 5 and Vega. They are truly the flight decks of launchers. On the way, we could get a glimpse of the countdown (1h27m48s) and a direct view on the rocket.


Next Ariane 5

We went on to the assembly hall of Ariane 5. The Ariane 5 was majestically standing on its control table.

Ariane 5 launch pad

Ariane 5 construction ramp

Next to the launcher was the ramp, the umbilical cord which feeds the rocket with fuel until 5 seconds before launch. Finally, we went to the Soyuz launch pad with an impressive view on the pit which allows the evacuation of the blaze at launch.


Soyuz launch pad with the evacuation pit

December 1, 15:30 GMT

Antoine Petiteau
Text: Antoine


Joseph Martino

Photos: Joseph

Arriving in Kourou


Arriving at the airport (and receiving goodies!) after an 11-hour flight from Paris, a 1-hour stop for refueling at the Canary Islands and a 1-hour bus ride from Cayenne, here we are in Kourou. Much warmer than back in Paris, with frequent showers.




Concerning LISAPathfinder, all lights are green. Rehearsal of the launch took place over the week-end. Final operations will take place tomorrow early afternoon, local time. If everything is OK, only the weather can play us some bad trick!


Antoine Petiteau


Antoine (03:20 GMT)

Very special envoys

Gravity! will have two special envoys at the Kourou Space Centre to tell us what is going on there for the launch of the LISAPathfinder mission. Follow here the comments the comments that they will send all week long.

Antoine Petiteau


Antoine Petiteau is Maître de Conférences at Paris Diderot University. He is leading the LISAPathfinder group at the Astroparticle and Cosmology laboratory.



Joseph Martino



Joseph Martino is a specialist of the data processing and analysis of LISAPathfinder. He works at the space data François Arago Centre of Astroparticle and Cosmology.



If you follow the online course Gravity! on Futurelearn, you have met both of them on the video dedicated to the LISAPathfinder mission (step 5.13).

November 30 : hangout live from the launchpad in Kourou

Pierre Binétruy and Volker Beckman invite you to participate to a hangout live from the Kourou Space Centre in French Guyana, where the LISAPathfinder satellite is waiting on the launchpad. This hangout will take place on November 30, at 17:00 GMT (18:00 Paris time, 14:00 Kourou time) for an hour.

The LISAPathfinder mission will test key technologies for the future gravitational wave observatory planned by the European Space Agency for the 2030s. The launch is scheduled on December 2 at 4:15 GMT.

A rare opportunity to feel the atmosphere of a space centre a few hours before a launch.

Our host for this event will be in Kourou Paul McNamara, ESA, project scientist of the LISAPathfinder mission.

paul_mcnamara“My name is Paul McNamara, and I am the LISA Pathfinder project scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA). I’ve been part of the LISA and LISA Pathfinder project since I started my PhD at the University of Glasgow in 1994. After my PhD,  I continued my research in spaceborne gravitational wave detection, at the University of Glasgow, before moving to the NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA. This was my first experience of working for a space agency. In 2005, I moved to ESA, where I have been the LISA Pathfinder project scientist ever since.

The project scientist’s job is to manage the scientific exploitation of the mission…to ensure that we get as much science return as possible. I also coordinate the various university teams who will be involved in the data analysis and operations of the science instrument.

In order to fulfil my responsibilities, I need to work closely with the engineering team at ESA,  the operations teams at both the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), and European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), as well as the university groups involved in the mission.”


He will be accompanied by:

César García, ESA, project Manager of the LISAPathfinder mission

cesar_garcia“I am César García. I live in the Netherlands, where I moved from my native country, Spain. By education I am an aeronautical engineer, a space systems engineer and a MBA.

In the Netherlands I work at the European Space Agency as LISA Pathfinder project manager. As project manager, my job is to develop, launch, and perform the in-orbit operations until we have confidence the systems work (we call this in-orbit commissioning); and my responsibility is to do that while meeting the science, planning and budgetary requirements. This involves many people who make all that possible.”

Jon Harr, CNES, the Director of Operations,

Opérationnels à Jupiter 2, pendant chronologie VV05, le 22/06/2015.

“I am the Range Operations Director (DDO is the French Abbreviation) at CNES, which means that I am responsible for the operations conducted on the range to :

– prepare the spacecraft (payload) before its integration on the launcher,

– prepare all the means on the range necessary for launch operations : Security, ground safety, logistics, energy/air-con, telecom, optronics, time synchronization, telemetry (ground stations and real time processing systems), positioning (radars and real time processing systems). The telemetry ground station include several stations world-wide in order to track the launcher.

– finally, during the last part of the launch campaign, the DDO is responsible for the launch operations conducted from the Jupiter 2 control room. The DDO is not responsible for preparing and operating the launcher.”

Vicki Lonnon, Airbus D&S, Quality Insurance Engineer

vicki_lonnon“I’m Vicki Lonnon, from the UK.  I work for Airbus Defence & Space and for the last two and half years I have been the Quality Assurance Engineer for the LISA Pathfinder Spacecraft.  My role is within the Assembly Integration & Test team who are responsible for the putting together the spacecraft, testing it and ensuring that we have met the requirements of our customer, ESA.  As the Quality Assurance Engineer,  I get involved in all the different activities happening on the spacecraft, it is a great mix of hands on work with the flight hardware and office based work such as reviewing/writing procedures in advance of activities.”

Vicki is writing a personal blog on the test and launch campaign here.



The Google Hangout will be streamed live on Google Hangouts and Youtube for approximately 60 minutes, where you can follow the questions and answers live.

Ready for the ride in space

We are now less than 5 days before launch!

Vega_VV06_upper_composite_being_hoisted_up_to_the_top_of_the_mobile_gantryOn Monday November 16, all red tags were removed. The LISAPathfinder satellite and its propulsion module were mounted on the payload adaptor and encapsulated into the fairing. The satellite is no longer visible. The next time it sees light from stars will be 3 minutes and 54 seconds after launch.

Vega_VV06_upper_composite_transferred_to_launcher_assembly_areaOn Wednesday 18, it was transported to the launch pad and on Thursday 19 it was integrated to the launcher, the Vega rocket. Then during several days some electrical connections and battery checks were performed. The AVUM (Attitude Vernier Upper Module – Vega upper stage) is starting to fueling. In parallel, checks and rehearsals are performed in the control room.

The ride to space is ready!

The sequence of LISAPathfinder’s operations is detailed here.


ESA invites the international press for a last glimpse at the LISAPathfinder satellite before its voyage to Kourou

Slated for launch by Vega in November, ESA’s gravitational-wave detection technology demonstrator is ready to begin launch preparations in September at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Members of the media are invited to join ESA and Airbus Defence and Space at IABG’s space test centre in Ottobrunn, near Munich, Germany, to get a final glimpse of LISA Pathfinder before it departs to the launch site.

LISA Pathfinder will help to open up a completely new observational window into the gravitational Universe, proving new technologies needed to measure gravitational waves in space. Predicted by Albert Einstein, these waves are ripples in the curvature of spacetime and are produced by massive celestial bodies. Understanding their signature will tell scientists a lot about black holes, compact double stars and other exotic objects.

Members of the media are invited to join ESA’s, Airbus DS and relevant LISA Pathfinder scientists and partners on Tuesday, 1 September from 11:00 CEST, at the IABG space test centre in Ottobrunn near Munich, Germany.

To suscribe and know more, see this page :


ESA press release: LISAPathfinder prepares for final exams

The summer is coming and that means students across Europe are sitting their final tests. ESA’s LISAPathfinder, a technology demonstrator that will pave the way for space-based gravitational wave observaotires, is no different. It is currently in the test centre at IABG, Ottobrunn, Germany. …

Read the ESA Press release

 The LISA Pathfinder science module pictured in a cleanroom at IABG, Ottobrunn, Germany, in June 2015. One of two (gold coloured) colloidal micro-Newton thrusters, part of the NASA provided Space Technology 7 mission, can be seen on the side of the spacecraft.

The LISA Pathfinder science module pictured in a cleanroom at IABG, Ottobrunn, Germany, in June 2015. One of two (gold coloured) colloidal micro-Newton thrusters, part of the NASA provided Space Technology 7 mission, can be seen on the side of the spacecraft. © ESA – P. McNamara


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