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A NASA Atomic Clock on SpaceX's next Falcon Heavy will pioneer Mars Travel Tech



NASA has so many spaceships on Mars that it's a challenge to communicate with everyone, but the technology being introduced later this month could eliminate this problem in the future.

This technology is the Deep Space Atomic Clock a test system developed by NASA for two decades. It is designed to help spacecraft navigate and communicate without the need for so much ground support. The STP-2 mission, scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy missile on June 24 will perform its first space-based test.

"Every single spaceship exploring space today relies on the navigation that's being performed back on Earth to say where it is and, more importantly, where it's going," said Jill Seubert , a space navigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, during a press conference held on June 1

0 to navigate the Earth because the onboard spacecraft are unable to accurately measure time, but if we do we can revolutionize the way we navigate through space.

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And here comes the Deep Space Atomic Clock like atomic clocks that will not be traveling into space, it can measure the time to a split second – but it occupies the space of a gallon jug, not a refrigerator. that the instrument can be loaded onto a spaceship and launched.

Once the watch is in space, it should be able to keep time accurate without the intervention of the Earth, a stark contrast to the clocks of modern GPS satellites that need to be corrected twice a day to stay punctual, but precise timing is crucial for spacecraft navigation, Seubert said. [19659002] "Tracking a spacecraft on its journey through space is fundamentally a timing issue," she said. "We can not just pull out a ruler and measure how far away our spaceship is, instead we measure how long it takes for the spacecraft to send back a radio signal from Earth."

Technicians integrate NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock into their Earth-orbiting test field. Orbiting satellite to launch the STP-2 mission in June 2019 with a SpaceX Falcon Heavy missile.

(Image: © General Atomics)

These radio signals are coded with an accurate time stamp of the time of their generation. And since these radio signals are light waves and the speed of light is constant it is a simple mathematical problem to calculate the distance the signal travels. The signal only needs to travel from Earth to the spacecraft, and the spacecraft's on-board computer can navigate from there.

This autonomy offers tremendous benefits to overcrowded targets such as Mars and spacecraft at the outer edges of the Sun System where the round trip with the Earth takes too long to be practical.

Only one or two outposts on NASA's Deep Space Network, which communicate with all Agency spacecraft, may point to Mars at any given time. And right now, the network has to ping every spacecraft visitor individually to stay on course. "All spaceships that are currently on Mars must share the persecution time with the Deep Space Network," said Seubert. "They essentially share time."

That's why the ability of the atomic clock to navigate based on a simple one-way radio signal is so attractive: all spacecraft on the Red Planet can simultaneously check their positions with the same signal, no time Sharing required. "That means that with this architecture you can essentially support an infinite number of spacecraft flying to or around Mars," said Seubert.

And the system can also be used by rovers and people on the Martian surface or at even more ambitious places, Seubert said; The system would work like a more exotic form of GPS.

"Imagine an astronaut walking on Mars, and maybe Olympus Mons will rise in the background," Seubert said. "She checks her Google Maps Mars Edition to see where she is and creates a course to see where she needs to go."

This scenario is still far in the future, but provides real data about the Deep Space Atomic Clock's performance in space is the first step. Once the instrument is safely in orbit, Seubert and her colleagues will confirm that it will meet the expected time and endure in the dangerous environment of space for a year, and they will use GPS data to verify the instrument's readings.

The Deep The Space Atomic Mission cost NASA $ 80 million.

Visit Space.com on June 24 for full coverage of the launch of Falcon Heavy and the STP-2 mission.

Send an e-mail to Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @SpaceTotcom and Facebook .


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