Editors: Pau Amaro-Seoane & Bernard Schutz
The last GW Note is a Special Issues on eLISA/NGO

Comparison of LISA and Atom Interferometry for Gravitational Wave Astronomy in Space


by Bender, Peter L.
Submitted to Proc. 46th Rencontres de Moriond: Gravitational Waves and Experimental Gravity, March 20 – 27, 2011, La Thuile, Italy

One of the atom interferometer gravitational wave missions proposed by Dimopoulos et al.1 in 2008 was called AGIS-Sat. 2. It had a suggested gravitational wave sensitivity set by the atom state detection shot noise level that started at 1 mHz, was comparable to LISA sensitivity from 1 to about 20 mHz, and had better sensitivity from 20 to 500 mHz. The separation between the spacecraft was 1,000 km, with atom interferometers 200 m long and shades from sunlight used at each end. A careful analysis of many error sources was included, but requirements on the time-stability of both the laser wavefront aberrations and the atom temperatures in the atom clouds were not investigated. After including these considerations, the laser wavefront aberration stability requirement to meet the quoted sensitivity level is about 1\times10-8 wavelengths, and is far tighter than for LISA. Also, the temperature fluctuations between atom clouds have to be less than 1 pK. An alternate atom interferometer GW mission in Earth orbit called AGIS-LEO with 30 km satellite separation has been suggested recently. The reduction of wavefront aberration noise by sending the laser beam through a high-finesse mode-scrubbing optical cavity is discussed briefly, but the requirements on such a cavity are not given. Unfortunately, such an Earth-orbiting mission seems to be considerably more difficult to design than a non-geocentric mission and does not appear to have comparably attractive scientific goals.

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