LISA technology is now being used for Earth observation and will improve future satellite geodesy missions. GRACE Follow-On will observe the critical indicators of climate change through changes in Earth's gravitational field. The mission successfully launched into Earth orbit on the 22nd of May 2018 from Vandenberg, California. First observational data were received in the summer of 2018.
GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), was a joint US-German satellite mission that has provided new and unexpected insights into the natural processes of the Earth. In the GRACE mission, the distance between two spacecraft was measured using a microwave ranging system. Temporal estimates of the Earth's gravity field are inferred from changes in this distance. The changes in Earth's gravity field in turn can be used to measure indicators of climate change – like polar ice melt or changes in ground water level.
A successor to GRACE
The GRACE Follow-on mission reflies the identical GRACE spacecraft and instruments, but supplements the micrometre-level accuracy microwave measurement with a laser interferometer with nanometre-level accuracy.
The laser demonstration on GRACE Follow-On is a partnership between NASA, which provides the laser, cavity assembly, and ranging processor, the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ), and the Albert Einstein Institute, which is responsible for and overseeing the laser ranging instrument and in particular the measurement optics and steering mirror assembly along with instrument integration and testing.
LISA technology in an Earth orbit
For monitoring the Earth gravitational field LISA Pathfinder technology will be employed: The LISA phasemeter is being adapted to the needs of the gravity field mapping mission.
Under this project a consortium of U.S. and German institutions produced hardware for the laser ranging interferometer flying on the GRACE Follow-on mission. This system improved the inter-satellite ranging sensitivity by a factor of 200 over the initial GRACE mission.