The LARES 2 satellite, general relativity and fundamental physics





Citation of Original Publication

Ciufolini, I., Paolozzi, A., Pavlis, E.C. et al. The LARES 2 satellite, general relativity and fundamental physics. Eur. Phys. J. C 83, 87 (2023).


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LARES 2, successfully launched on July 13, 2022, is a new generation laser-ranged satellite. LARES is an acronym for LAser RElativity Satellite. The first LARES satellite was successfully launched on February 13, 2012 with the ESA-ASI-AVIO launch vehicle VEGA. LARES 2 was injected with extremely high precision onto a high-altitude orbit at about 5900 km altitude with the new ESA-ASI-AVIO launch vehicle VEGA C. Laser-ranged satellites have many applications, including to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The main general relativistic phenomenon that LARES 2 will test with high accuracy is the dragging of inertial frames, or frame-dragging. It will also test other aspects and principles of fundamental physics and general relativity, such as the weak equivalence principle at the foundation of viable gravitational theories. Frame-dragging is the name Einstein himself gave in 1913 to an intriguing phenomenon of general relativity which implies that a current of mass-energy, such as the rotation of a body, will generate spacetime curvature. Frame-dragging has a key role in high energy astrophysics, e.g., in the generation of gravitational waves by the collision of two black holes to form a rotating black hole. Frame-dragging by the rotating Earth was measured to a few percent accuracy by combining the data of the satellites LARES, LAGEOS and LAGEOS 2 (Ciufolini et al. in Eur Phys J C 79:872, 2019). LARES 2, thanks to its extremely high injection precision, is projected to improve the test of frame-dragging by at least an order of magnitude. LARES 2 has also relevant applications in space geodesy and geodynamics, e.g., in the study of the shape of the Earth and in the determination of the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) by improving the determination of the Earth center of mass and by contributing to a better determination of its rotation axis.