An atomic clock was activated recently and it is made to pave the way for deep space exploration, as was announced by the clock’s mission team on Aug. 23.
NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) was launched in June and now will begin the tech demo that will last a year. That means that the clock could one day support autonomous spacecraft traveling into deep space.
These atomic clocks measure the distance between objects by timing how long it takes for a signal to travel from one object to the other. An atomic clock keeps time by measuring the resonance frequencies of atoms.
The goal of the DSAC is to be the first clock stable enough to map the trajectory of a spacecraft traveling into space.
At the moment, spacecraft navigating with these clocks receive and then send signals to Earth, which are used to locate them. After this signal bounces to and from the craft, navigators will create and send navigation instructions back to the craft. This takes a few minutes or hours.
The atomic clock is a lot more accurate than the previous clocks. This means that one day a spacecraft can calculate its own trajectory and navigate itself through space which will save time and spacecraft could travel greater distances from Earth because it would not be relying on an Earth-bound team for navigation.
“The goal of the space experiment is to put the Deep Space Atomic Clock in the context of an operating spacecraft — complete with the things that affect the stability and accuracy of a clock — and see if it performs at the level we think it will: with orders of magnitude more stable than existing space clocks,” navigator Todd Ely, principal investigator of the project at JPL, said in a statement.
This technology is meant to be used in the future, so astronauts can navigate themselves in deep space, where no man has gone before.