Explained: What is Deep Space Atomic Clock that can boost future space travel

In a bid to enhance navigation for robotic explorers and GPS satellite tv for pc operations, the work on a Deep Space Atomic Clock has reached a vital milestone. Scientists have now managed to stabilise the clock in space, reaching greater than 10 instances the soundness of present space-based atomic clocks getting used on GPS satellites.

Scientists have stated that atomic clocks are important for deep space exploration and international navigation satellite tv for pc programs. They have now improved the power of space-based atomic clocks to measure time persistently over longer durations.

The progress was reported in a paper published in the journal Nature, which acknowledged that though space atomic clocks with low instability had been an enabling know-how for international navigation, they haven’t but been utilized to deep space navigation. So far, they’ve seen solely restricted utility owing to efficiency constraints imposed by the rigours of space operation.

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Atomic clocks are used to measure the space between two objects in space by measuring very secure and exact frequencies of sunshine emitted by particular atoms. These clocks stay ultra-stable for many years, nevertheless, their design is too cumbersome, power-hungry and delicate to environmental variations. Due to their enormity, they must be condensed for spaceflight operations and deep space explorations.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock is a critical improve to the satellite-based atomic clocks that allow the GPS on our telephones. This new know-how can make spacecraft navigation to distant locations like Mars extra autonomous. Atomic clocks used onboard GPS satellites that orbit the Earth want updates two instances per day to appropriate the clocks’ pure drift from ground-based atomic clocks.

This new know-how may make spacecraft navigation to distant places like Mars extra autonomous. (Photo: Nasa)


Clocks are used to find out the situation and heading of a spacecraft from Earth. Navigators ship a sign to the spacecraft, which then returns it to Earth. The time the sign requires to make that two-way journey reveals the spacecraft’s distance from Earth.

According to Nasa, navigators calculate the trajectory and vacation spot of a spacecraft by sending these a number of indicators and in a bid to know the spacecraft’s place inside a meter, navigators want clocks with precision time decision — clocks that can measure billionths of a second.

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“As a general rule, an uncertainty of one nanosecond in time corresponds to a distance uncertainty of about one foot,” Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) quoted Eric Burt, an atomic clock physicist as saying.

These clocks stay ultra-stable for many years, nevertheless, their design is too cumbersome, power-hungry and delicate to environmental variations. (Photo: SpaceX)


Currently, engineers use refrigerator-sized atomic clocks on the bottom to log the timing of these indicators. However, for robots on Mars or extra distant locations, ready for the indicators to make the journey can rapidly add as much as tens of minutes and even hours. This time lag can be considerably decreased if spacecraft carried atomic clocks and are in a position to calculate their very own place and route. Therefore, their stability is of utmost significance.

“The stability and subsequent time delay reported in the new paper is about five times better than what the team reported in 2020. This does not represent an improvement in the clock itself but in the team’s measurement of the clock’s stability,” JPL stated.

The work of the Deep Space Atomic Clock, which has been working aboard General Atomic’s Orbital Test Bed spacecraft since June 2019, will conclude in August. NASA has introduced that the Deep Space Atomic Clock-2, an improved model of the cutting-edge timekeeper, will fly on the just lately introduced VERITAS mission to Venus.

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