Launched today aboard the European Space Agency’s new Vega rocket, a low-cost space probe will test Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity—and could do so better than a recent NASA mission that cost nearly a hundred times more, managers say.
In the mid-2000s, after more than 40 years of development, the $800-million Stanford University-led Gravity Probe B detected frame dragging. This effect, predicted by Einstein’s theory, is caused by Earth’s rotation dragging the fabric of space and time along with it.
But because of a technical glitch, the NASA craft was able to measure frame dragging with an estimated accuracy of no better than 20 percent.
Scientists working with the new Italian probe, which cost $10 million (U.S.) to build, hope to improve on those readings.
“If we reach one percent [accuracy]—and I am fairly confident we will—we’ll have an order of magnitude’s improvement” over Gravity Probe B’s measurement, said mission leader Ignazio Ciufolini, of the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy. More