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by Sofia Villegas
05 October 2023
UK joins ‘game-changer’ project into the origins of the universe

LiteBIRD concept | JAXA

UK joins ‘game-changer’ project into the origins of the universe

UK joins ‘game-changer’ project into the origins of the universe

The UK Space Agency has joined the LiteBIRD mission, which looks to test the hypothesis behind the creation of the universe, the cosmological inflation (CI) theory.

The satellite will analyse light from the Big Bang to understand the nature of the universe.

Led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the project is expected to launch in 2030.

Paul Bate, vice executive of the UK Space Agency, added: “We expect LiteBIRD to be a game-changer for our understanding of cosmology, putting our best theories to the test as to what happened at the start of the universe.  

“It’s incredibly exciting for the UK to be at the forefront of this mission, working together with international partners to push the boundaries of space science and answer some of humanity’s biggest questions.” 

According to the CI theory, the universe grew exponentially over a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. By examining the light left over from the event – the cosmic microwave background (CMB), researchers will test the reliability of this assumption. 

Peter Hargrave, LiteBIRD UK consortium principal investigator, said: “LiteBIRD will precisely investigate specific properties of this CMB light to enable us to look for evidence of gravitational waves that should have been caused by inflation directly after the big bang. This will confirm, or rule out, broad classes of inflation models, and greatly enhance our understanding of the origins of our universe.”

Planning to invest a total of £17m throughout the lifespan of the mission, the governmental organisation has initially provided almost £3m in funding for scientists to design instruments and analyse findings.

The University of Cardiff - led by Hargrave and deputy director of research at the university Erminia Calabrese - will also access a share of the funds to develop lenses and filters for the telescopes as the only institution worldwide with the expertise to make them. 

Kuninaka Hitoshi, director general of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science said: “The invaluable contributions of the UK, including the unique technology of the metal mesh filters developed by Cardiff University, are vital to realise the high precision observations required for the LiteBIRD mission. We truly look forward to achieving remarkable scientific milestones through the partnership between Japan, the UK, and the other nations.” 

LiteBIRD is the latest addition to the growing number of UK-Japan partnerships in the sector.

UK Science Minister George Freeman said: “This initial £2.7m investment through our UK Space Agency in the first phase of the LiteBIRD mission, led by Japan, to explore the origins of our universe, is a great moment for both UK space science and technology and our deepening science, technology and innovation collaboration with Japan.”

The UK Space Agency has also funded the University of Aberdeen’s research into a device for the future JAXA Mars rover, which will help provide data on the habitability of the site where the device lands. 

Earlier this week at the International Astronautical Congress in Azerbaijan, the UK also committed almost £2m of its £20m International Bilateral Fund into the Mitsibushi-Viasat research for developing a rocket - set to take off on 2025- to offer an “easy to use” solution to commercial launches. 

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