NASA has so many spacecraft on Mars that it is a challenge to communicate with all of them, but the technology that will be released later this month can eliminate this problem in the future.
This technology is Deep Space Atomic Clock a test system that NASA has been developing for two decades. It is designed to help the spacecraft navigate and communicate without the need for so much support from Earth. The STP-2 mission to be placed on board the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket on June 24 will hold the first spacecraft test in space.
"Every spacecraft exploring the deep space today relies on navigating here on Earth to tell where it is and, more importantly, where it goes," Jill Seubert, NASA Space Navigator in California , said at a press conference on June 1
This is where comes atomic clock Deep Space. atomic clocks that will not be traveling in space, he can measure time to second second of a second – but takes the place of the gallon jug instead of the refrigerator. This miniaturization means that the tool can be loaded onto a spacecraft and put into operation. This is a sharp contrast to today's GPS satellites watches that need to be adjusted twice a day to stay on time. But accurate reflection of time is vital to navigating spacecraft, says Sebert. "We can not just get a ruler and measure how far our spacecraft is, so instead we measure how long the spacecraft needs to repel the radio signal sent from the Earth."
These radio signals come encoded with accurate print at the time they are produced, and since these radio signals are light waves and the speed of light is constant it it is an easy mathematical problem to solve the distance the signal has traveled. The signal must only travel from Earth to spacecraft, and the spacecraft's onboard computer can move from there.
This autonomy will offer tremendous benefits to overcrowded destinations like Mars and Spacecraft on the outer edges of the solar power system where a lap with Earth takes too long to be practical.
Only one or two of NASA's Deep Space Network top posts, which communicate with all the spacecraft of the agency, can point to Mars at any time. And right now, the network must ping every visitor a spacecraft to help him stay on the course. "All these spaceships on Mars should share tracking time with the Deep Space Network," Saubert said. "They essentially share time."
That's why the atomic clock's ability to move on a simple one-way radio signal is so appealing: all Red Planet spacecraft can simultaneously check their location with the same signal, no sharing of time is required. "This means you can essentially support an infinite number of spacecraft that will go to or around Mars with this architecture," said Seubert.
And the system can also be used by Rivers and people on the surface of Mars. or even more ambitious destinations, said Seubert; the system will function as a more exotic form of GPS.
"Imagine an astronaut traveling on Mars and perhaps Olympus Mons rises in the background," said Seubert. "She checks her version of Google Maps Mars Edition to see where she is, and to outline a course to get to where she's supposed to go."
This scenario is still far in the future, but getting real data on how to perform the Deep Space atomic clock in space is the first step. Once the instrument is safe in orbit, Seubert and her colleagues will confirm that they keep the time as expected and can last for one year in the dangerous environment of space, and will use GPS data to check the instrument readings.
The space atom program costs NASA $ 80 million.
Visit Space.com on June 24 for full coverage of the launch of Falcon Heavy and the STP-2 mission.