The atomic clock
which could pave the way for autonomous deep space travel has been successfully activated
last week and ready to launch its annual technology demonstration, the mission team
confirmed on Friday, August 23, 2019. Launched in June, the NASA Deep Space Atmospheric Clock is a critical step toward spacecraft activation
navigate the deep space safely, not rely on
it takes time to process directions from Earth.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is the watch
first stopwatch, stable enough to map the spacecraft's trajectory into deep space
is small enough to fly aboard a spacecraft. A more stable watch can
they work farther from Earth, where it has to work well for longer periods of time
satellites closer to home.
such as those used in GPS satellites are used to measure the distance between
objects, taking into account how long it takes a signal to travel from point A to point B.
For space exploration, atomic clocks have to be extremely accurate: a
even one second means the difference between landing on a planet like Mars or
it is missing from hundreds of thousands of miles. Up to 50 times more stable than
atomic clocks of GPS satellites, the mercury-ion deep cosmic atomic clock loses one second
test this accuracy in space.
currently use fridge-sized atomic clocks to identify spacecraft
location. Minutes to hours can elapse when a signal is sent from Earth to
spacecraft before being returned to Earth where it was used to create
instructions which are then sent back to the spacecraft. Clock on board a
the spacecraft would allow the spacecraft to calculate its own trajectory
waiting for Earth's navigators to send this information. That progress would
free missions to travel farther and ultimately transport people safely to others
the space experiment is to put the Deep
Space atomic clock in the context of a working spacecraft – complete with
things that affect the stability and accuracy of a clock – and see if it is
performs at the level we think it will be: with orders of magnitude greater stability
than existing space clocks, "said navigator Todd Eli, principal investigator
of the project in JPL.
months, the team will measure how well the clock keeps up to
nanosecond. The results start counting down to a day when technology can safely
help astronauts navigate other worlds.
The Deep Space atomic clock is hosted on a spacecraft
provided by General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems from Englewood, Colorado. That
is sponsored by technology
Demonstration Missions Program as part of NASA's Space Technology Mission
Directorate and Outer Space
NASA Communications and Navigation Program for Human Research and Exploitation
The JPL Mission Directorate manages the project.
Media News Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA