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Gravitational Wave Experiment

Since the optimum size of a gravitational wave detector is the wave length, interplanetary dimensions are needed for detecting gravitational waves in the mHz range. Doppler tracking of Ulysses provides sensitive detections of gravitational waves in this low frequency band. The driving noise source is the fluctuations in the refractive index of interplanetary plasma. This dictates the timing of the experiment to be near solar opposition and sets the target accuracy for the fractional frequency change at 3.0 × 10-14 for integration times of the order of 1000 seconds.

In the spacecraft Doppler tracking method, the Earth and spacecraft constitute the two objects whose time-varying separation is monitored to detect a passing gravitational wave. The monitoring is accomplished with high-precision Doppler tracking in which a constant frequency microwave radio signal (S-band) is transmitted from the Earth to the spacecraft (uplink); the signal is transponded (received and coherently amplified) at the spacecraft; and then transmitted back to Earth (downlink) in both S- and X-band signals. This Dual frequency downlink is required in order to calibrate the interplanetary media which affects the two frequency bands differently. The downlink signal is recorded at Earth and its frequency is compared to the constant uplink frequency f0 to extract the Doppler signal, δf / f0.

Summary of Objectives

The objective of the gravitational wave investigation on Ulysses is to search for low frequency gravitational waves crossing the Solar System. Because of the great distance to the spacecraft, this method is most sensitive to wave periods between about 100 - 8000 seconds, a band which is not accessible to ground-based experiments which are superior for periods below 1 second.

Last Update: 08 December 2006

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