NASA Tests Atomic Clock for Deep Space Navigation

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In low space, accurate timekeeping is critical to navigation, yet many booster miss accurate timepieces on board. For 20 years, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been perfecting a clock. It’s not a wristwatch; not something we could buy during a store. It’s the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC), an instrument ideal for low space exploration.

A glance of a Deep Space Atomic Clock in a center brook of a General Atomics Orbital Test Bed spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Currently, many missions rest on ground-based antennas interconnected with atomic clocks for navigation. Ground antennas send narrowly focused signals to spacecraft, which, in turn, lapse a signal. NASA uses a disproportion in time between promulgation a vigilance and receiving a response to calculate a spacecraft’s location, quickness and path.

This method, yet reliable, could be finished many some-more efficient. For example, a belligerent hire contingency wait for a booster to lapse a signal, so a hire can usually lane one booster during a time. This requires booster to wait for navigation commands from Earth rather than creation those decisions on house and in real-time.

“Navigating in low space requires measuring immeasurable distances regulating a believe of how radio signals generate in space,” pronounced Todd Ely of JPL, DSAC’s principal investigator. “Navigating customarily requires stretch measurements accurate to a scale or better. Since radio signals transport during a speed of light, that means we need to magnitude their time-of-flight to a pointing of a few nanoseconds. Atomic clocks have finished this customarily on a belligerent for decades. Doing this in space is what DSAC is all about.”

The DSAC plan aims to yield accurate onboard timekeeping for destiny NASA missions. Spacecraft regulating this new record would no longer have to rest on two-way tracking. A booster could use a vigilance sent from Earth to calculate position but returning a vigilance and watchful for commands from a ground, a routine that can take hours. Timely plcae information and onboard control concede for some-more fit operations, some-more accurate maneuvering and adjustments to astonishing situations.

This model change enables booster to concentration on idea objectives rather than adjusting their position to indicate antennas earthward to tighten a couple for two-way tracking.

Additionally, this creation would concede belligerent stations to lane mixed satellites during once nearby swarming areas like Mars. In certain scenarios, a correctness of that tracking information would surpass normal methods by a cause of five.

DSAC is an modernized antecedent of a small, low-mass atomic time formed on mercury-ion trap technology. The atomic clocks during belligerent stations in NASA’s Deep Space Network are about a distance of a tiny refrigerator. DSAC is about a distance of a four-slice toaster, and could be serve miniaturized for destiny missions.

The DSAC exam moody will take this record from a laboratory to a space environment. While in orbit, a DSAC idea will use a navigation signals from U.S. GPS coupled with accurate believe of GPS satellite orbits and clocks to endorse DSAC’s performance. The proof should endorse that DSAC can say time correctness to softened than dual nanoseconds (.000000002 seconds) over a day, with a idea of achieving 0.3 nanosecond accuracy.

Once DSAC has valid a mettle, destiny missions can use a record enhancements. The time promises increasing tracking information apportion and softened tracking information quality. Coupling DSAC with onboard radio navigation could safeguard that destiny scrutiny missions have a navigation information indispensable to span a solar system.

Technologies aboard DSAC could also urge GPS time fortitude and, in turn, a use GPS provides to users worldwide. Ground-based exam formula have shown DSAC to be upwards of 50 times some-more fast than a atomic clocks now flown on GPS. DSAC promises to be a many fast navigation space time ever flown.

“We have lofty goals for improving low space navigation and scholarship regulating DSAC,” pronounced Ely. “It could have a genuine and evident impact for everybody here on Earth if it’s used to safeguard a accessibility and continued opening of a GPS system.”

DSAC is a partnership between NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and a Space Communications and Navigation module office, a module underneath a Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. DSAC will launch in 2018 as a hosted cargo on General Atomic’s Orbital Test Bed booster aboard a U.S. Air Force Space Technology Program (STP-2) mission.

Source: JPL

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