Current and future optical technologies will aid exploration of the Moon and Mars while advancing fundamental physics research in the solar system. Technologies and possible improvements in the laser-enabled tests of various physical phenomena are considered along with a space architecture that could be the cornerstone for robotic and human exploration of the solar system. In particular, accurate ranging to the Moon and Mars would not only lead to construction of a new space communication infrastructure enabling an improved navigational accuracy, but will also provide a significant improvement in several tests of gravitational theory: the equivalence principle, geodetic precession, PPN parameters $\beta$ and $\gamma$, and possible variation of the gravitational constant $G$. Other tests would become possible with an optical architecture that would allow proceeding from meter to centimeter to millimeter range accuracies on interplanetary distances. This paper discusses the current state and the future improvements in the tests of relativistic gravity with Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR). We also consider precision gravitational tests with the future laser ranging to Mars and discuss optical design of the proposed Laser Astrometric Test of Relativity (LATOR) mission. We emphasize that already existing capabilities can offer significant improvements not only in the tests of fundamental physics, but may also establish the infrastructure for space exploration in the near future. Looking to future exploration, what characteristics are desired for the next generation of ranging devices, what is the optimal architecture that would benefit both space exploration and fundamental physics, and what fundamental questions can be investigated? We try to answer these questions.

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Also archived at: arXiv:gr-qc/0411082 v1 16 Nov 2004 The work described here was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works in February 2014.

Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Physics and Astronomy (COS)


RIT – Main Campus