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Gravity Probe B Data Analysis

Status and Potential for Improved Accuracy of Scientific Results


This is the first of five connected papers detailing progress on the Gravity Probe B (GP-B) Relativity Mission. GP-B, launched 20 April 2004, is a landmark physics experiment in space to test two fundamental predictions of Einstein’s general relativity theory, the geodetic and frame-dragging effects, by means of cryogenic gyroscopes in Earth orbit. Data collection began 28 August 2004 and science operations were completed 29 September 2005. The data analysis has proven deeper than expected as a result of two mutually reinforcing complications in gyroscope performance: (1) a changing polhode path affecting the calibration of the gyroscope scale factor C g against the aberration of starlight and (2) two larger than expected manifestations of a Newtonian gyro torque due to patch potentials on the rotor and housing. In earlier papers, we reported two methods, ‘geometric’ and ‘algebraic’, for identifying and removing the first Newtonian effect (‘misalignment torque’), and also a preliminary method of treating the second (‘roll-polhode resonance torque’). Central to the progress in both torque modeling and C g determination has been an extended effort on “Trapped Flux Mapping” commenced in November 2006. A turning point came in August 2008 when it became possible to include a detailed history of the resonance torques into the computation. The East-West (frame-dragging) effect is now plainly visible in the processed data. The current statistical uncertainty from an analysis of 155 days of data is 5.4 marc-s/yr (∼14% of the predicted effect), though it must be emphasized that this is a preliminary result requiring rigorous investigation of systematics by methods discussed in the accompanying paper by Muhlfelder et al. A covariance analysis incorporating models of the patch effect torques indicates that a 3–5% determination of frame-dragging is possible with more complete, computationally intensive data analysis.

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Correspondence to C. W. F. Everitt.

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Everitt, C.W.F., Adams, M., Bencze, W. et al. Gravity Probe B Data Analysis. Space Sci Rev 148, 53–69 (2009).

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  • General Relativity
  • Frame-dragging
  • Lense-Thirring