NASA plans to rejoin the ESA's gravitational waves project

The LISA mission will listen to the sounds of the universe.

ESA/C. Carreau

NASA was supposed to be the European Space Agency's partner in the quest to measure gravitational waves, but it had to drop out in 2011 due to budgetary constraints. According to Science, though, NASA officials changed their minds after a team of scientists confirmed the existence of these distortions in the fabric of space-time. At the 11th symposium to discuss the status of ESA's Laser Interferometry Space Antenna (LISA) project, NASA said it wants to patch things up with its European counterpart and rejoin the mission as a major partner.

The LISA mission will be comprised of three spacecraft orbiting the Earth in an equilateral triangle, detecting and measuring gravitational waves. In late 2015, the ESA launched an experimental spacecraft called the LISA Pathfinder to test out the technologies it plans to use on the actual mission.

Under the original partnership's terms, the two agencies were supposed to split the estimated $2 billion worth of expenses needed to run the project. Science says NASA might not be able to commit $1 billion even if it rejoins, but it will be significantly more than the $150 million it planned to contribute when it left the partnership.

Besides the confirmation of gravitational waves' existence, NASA might have also been compelled to get back into the thick of things when the ESA announced that the LISA Pathfinder has been performing well. In fact, the team will start accepting mission concepts for the Pathfinder next month instead of in 2018. Also, it plans to move up the actual LISA mission's launch from 2034 to "somewhere in the early 2030s."