Nasa changed the way spacecrafts navigate through deep space| Things to know about NASA’s deep space atomic clock

Nasa is sending it’s new technology to space in late June which would change the way spacecraft navigates in the deep space and even how we send astronauts to Mars or beyond. It’s the deep space atomic clock build by NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California.

At present, all spacecraft rely on commands from Earth to understand their position in relation to other objects like planets, but they are not ideal for future mission to other planets.

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The deep space atomic clock will make spacecraft to navigate autonomous through deep space. The instrument will be tested in Earth orbit for a year with a goal to become ready for future mission .

The size of the instrument is no longer than a toster making the deep space atomic clock stable enough to fly on a spacecraft or beyond Earth’s orbit. As NASA works to put humans on Mars and moon to establish interstellar civilization, the clock’s precise timekeeping will be key for these mission success.

What is an atomic clock?

ATOMIC clocks are the most accurate timekeepers in the world.
These clocks use the rhythmic characteristics of atoms the same way a grandfather clock uses a pendulum.
Deep space atomic clock let astronauts to navigate safety and accurately to Mars and beyond

Need to replace the old way of navigation in deep space.

Spacecraft which travel through the deep space have to rely on the giant antennas on the Earth to determine their position and navigate to the destination.

Navigators use giant antennas on Earth to send a signal to the spacecraft, which bounces it back to Earth. Extremely precise clocks on the ground measure how long it takes the signal to make this two-way journey. The amount of time tells them how far away the spacecraft is and how fast it’s going. Only then can navigators send directions to the spacecraft, telling it where to go.

This is a two way navigation which means Navigators have to wait to receive the signal from the spacecraft to know it’s correct location, These spacecraft travel so fast that delay of time in receiving signal can cause spacecraft to travel thousand of miles farther from where they have to reach.

The Solution

An atomic clock small enough to fly on a mission but precise enough to give accurate directions could eliminate the need for this two-way system. Future navigators would send a signal from Earth to a spacecraft. Like its Earthly cousins, the Deep Space Atomic Clock onboard would measure the amount of time it took that signal to reach it. The spacecraft could then calculate its own position and trajectory, essentially giving itself directions.

“Having a clock onboard would enable onboard radio navigation and, when combined with optical navigation, make for a more accurate and safe way for astronauts to be able to navigate themselves,” said Deep Space Atomic Clock Principal Investigator Todd Ely.

Things to know about NASA’S deep space atomic clock/ 4 facts about deep space atomic clock.

It is works very similar to GPS

Deep space atomic clock’s works very similar to GPS.Global positioning system make use of atomic clock’s fitted on the satellites. The satellites send signals from space, and the receiver triangulates your position by measuring how long the signals take to reach your GPS.

Spacecraft don’t have GPS to find their way in deep space so for navigation spacecraft the deep space atomic clock’s fitted on the spacecraft will measure the amount of time signal takes to travel from Earth to spacecraft and would determine it’s position and speed.

It makes the spacecraft navigation autonomous

A Deep Space Atomic Clock on a spacecraft would allow it to receive a signal from Earth and determine its location immediately using an onboard navigation system making the spacecraft navigation autonomous.

It looses 0.5 seconds in 5 million years

In ground tests, the Deep Space Atomic Clock proved to be up to 50 times more stable than the atomic clocks on GPS satellites. If the mission can prove this stability in space, it will be one of the most precise clocks in the universe.

It keeps accurate time using mercury ions

Your wristwatch and atomic clocks keep time in similar ways: by measuring the vibrations of a quartz crystal. An electrical pulse is sent through the quartz so that it vibrates steadily. This continuous vibration acts like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, ticking off how much time has passed. But a wristwatch can easily drift off track by seconds to minutes over a given period.

An atomic clock uses atoms to help maintain high precision in its measurements of the quartz vibrations. The length of a second is measured by the frequency of light released by specific atoms, which is same throughout the universe. But atoms in current clocks can be sensitive to external magnetic fields and temperature changes. The Deep Space Atomic Clock uses mercury ions — fewer than the amount typically found in two cans of tuna fish — that are contained in electromagnetic traps. Using an internal device to control the ions makes them less vulnerable to external forces.

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