China is set to launch its first satellite to help detect space-based gravitational wave by the end of next year.

The satellite will be launched to test technologies for China’s space-based gravitational wave detection programme called ‘Tianqin’.

Started by China’s Sun Yat-sen University in 2015, the Tianqin programme will consist of three satellites forming an equilateral triangle around the earth.

Sun Yat-sen University president Luo Jun was quoted by Xinhua as saying: “It’s like a harp in space. If the gravitational waves come, the ‘harp’s strings’ will be plucked.”

Luo further noted that the detection of gravitational wave will be conducted by high-precision laser interferometry technology, which will calculate changes in the distances and positions of the satellites.

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted the presence of gravitational waves, which are ‘ripples’ in the structure of space and time due to some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe.

“It’s like a harp in space. If the gravitational waves come, the ‘harp’s strings’ will be plucked.”

In February 2016, American Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves for the first time.

China’s gravitational wave detection programme is different from LIGO and will be used to track the waves at much lower frequencies created by the integration of massive or supermassive black holes.

Although China had achieved some breakthrough results in detection technology,  more work is needed to realise the space-based detection of gravitational waves.

The country employed laser-ranging technology to detect the waves, with the first success achieved in this field in January this year.

In May, China launched the relay satellite of Chang’e-4 lunar probe, which is equipped with a reflector developed by Sun Yat-sen University and is expected to extend laser-ranging to a distance of 460,000km next year.