These days are the tenth anniversary since the satellite Lares from ASI was launched into orbit by a Vega launcher on the occasion of its maiden flight. The “Laser Relativistic Satellite – LARES,” created by principal investigator Ignazio Siovolini, was designed by the professor’s team. Antonio Polozzi of the Sapienza School of Aerospace Engineering in Rome and built by OHB Italia in Milan, is a cannonball-type satellite, so it has a metal alloy spherical body and CCR (Cube Corner Retroreflector) embedded on the surface, making it an ideal reflecting target For lasers such as the target for the CGS “G. Colombo” from ASI at Matera. It is designed to have an orbit that is very insensitive to non-gravitational perturbations, and over ten years has provided a wide range of data, which can be used for relativistic measurements but also in other sectors such as those of space geodesy. Thanks to Its characteristics, LARES was selected in 2007 by the European Space Agency as the payload for the first flight of the new European bomber, but with a distinctly Italian heart, the Vega, which took place in mid-February 2012.
“On that occasion I worked as Lars Artistic Director for the agency – he tells us Simon Perrotta, is today ASI Program Director for the LARES2 mission, in preparation for its launch in 2022 – and it was an unforgettable experience from a professional and humanitarian standpoint. The expedition had a strong patriotic connotation also on the operator’s side, and so, when the expedition proved to be a complete success, the party doubled at Guyana’s spatial center in Kourou! We hope to be able to replicate it soon, with LARES2 launching as the first passenger on VEGA C’s inaugural flight, scheduled for the next few months.” Alessandro Gabrielli also joined the ASI team for LARES in 2011, serving as the interface manager between the satellite and the launcher.
Many of the heroes of this adventure will also be the heroes of the second chapter: among them Alessandro Borsi, the system engineer at LARES and now the LARES2 system project manager for OHB, who in this task is also interested in developing the satellite retention system and launching them once the operator reaches the destination orbit. “LARES was one of the most intense and formative work experiences I’ve ever had,” Bursi reports. “Now the LARES2 system is also ready to fly with a VEGA C, I’m just as excited to launch as last time! This sequel will have the same success as the first chapter.”
Another eyewitness to those unforgettable days is the professor. Antonio Polozzi “There are no words to describe the feelings during the launch. It was great to share the excitement with all the technicians who encouraged the shooter to go up and up the ‘Ajami observation hill. Even though we were at the equator, it was fine, probably because the snow was Snowing in Rome! For the LARES team, the tension continued for another four days when, four days after it was put into orbit, the satellite’s first reflected laser signal was finally received.”
In fact, immediately after the injection into the final orbit, the ILRS (International Laser Ranging Service) began to follow the LARES technology with its SLR (Satellite Laser Range) technology, which immediately allowed for high-precision orbital determination. “It is noteworthy that the Matera Laser Range observatory, located at the CGS ASI in Matera, is the observatory that from the beginning has generated the most accurate tracking data (at a sub-centimeter level) for the entire world network. LARES tracking remains a high priority today,” he tells us. Giuseppe BiancoASI’s LARES project scientist.
Among the intriguing things and its apes, LARES includes the fact that it is the densest orbital object in the Solar System, by virtue of its composition based on a special tungsten alloy.
“Thanks to ten years of observations from the LARES satellite, we have verified with great accuracy a subtle but fundamental phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity about a hundred years ago, the dragging of space-time due to the rotation of the body, in our case orbiting the Earth. The next LARES 2 will verify this. and other phenomena of general relativity with unprecedented precision.” Ignazio Ciofolinifrom the Fermi Center in Rome.
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