An atomic clock that might rework deep-space journey has efficiently accomplished its first take a look at run in house.
NASA’s Deep Area Atomic Clock, which launched on a satellite tv for pc in June 2019, outperformed all different clocks in house throughout its first yr in orbit round Earth. The clock, DSAC for brief, was at the least 10 occasions extra steady than clocks on GPS satellites, which makes it dependable sufficient for futuristic house navigation schemes, researchers report on-line June 30 in Nature.
To navigate the photo voltaic system in the present day, house probes pay attention for indicators from antennas on Earth after which bounce these indicators again. Ultraprecise, refrigerator-sized atomic clocks on the bottom measure that spherical journey time — which might take hours — to pinpoint a spacecraft’s location.
A future spacecraft carrying a toaster oven–sized DSAC might merely measure how lengthy it takes a sign from Earth to reach and calculate its personal place (SN: 6/21/19). Untethering deep-space navigation from Earth might sometime allow self-driving spaceships or GPS-like navigation techniques on different planets.
DSAC is so steady as a result of it retains time utilizing electrically charged atoms, or ions, slightly than impartial atoms, says Eric Burt, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Bottling ions inside electrical fields prevents these atoms from bumping into the partitions of their container. Such interactions trigger the impartial atoms in GPS satellite tv for pc clocks to lose their rhythm.
By evaluating DSAC with the U.S. Naval Observatory’s hydrogen maser “grasp clock” on the bottom, the researchers discovered that the house clock drifted about 26 picoseconds, or trillionths of a second, over the course of a day (SN: 4/10/19). That’s corresponding to ground-based atomic clocks at present used for deep-space navigation, says DSAC principal investigator Todd Ely, additionally at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.