Inertial sensors based on matter-wave interferometry have benefitted from the progress in laser-cooling techniques over the pas 20 years, and offer performances comparable or better than their classical counterparts.
Recent developments in laser technologies now open the way to transportable devices, with applications to geophysics (geoid mapping, airborne gravimetry, oil prospection, volcano monitoring...) and fundamental physics tests (Universality of Free-Fall, gravitational wave detection...).
The I.C.E. (Interférometrie atomique à sources Cohérentes pour l'Espace - Coherent atom interferometry for space applications) experiment is a compact and transportable atom interferometer, designed to test the Universality of Free-Fall in a plane carrying out parabolic flights. It is a collaboration between three French labs : Institut d'Optique, LNE-Syrte and ONERA. The project is largely funded by CNES.
The experimental apparatus has been specifically designed to withstand vibrations and temperature fluctuations in the plane, and has been validated by operating the first airborne inertial sensor in 2010.
Video from 55th ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign (Nov. 2011). ©ESA 2011