In June 2019 NASA has placed two furnace-sized tools aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. They were atomic clocks that could change the way we travel through space in the future.

No space probe launched from Earth is able to independently determine its location in space. To locate it, it must first pick up signals from Earth when it returns to our planet. Here, specially designed clocks calculate the time required to return, by which the position of the probe is determined in space.

The mission of atomic clocks is to measure time very accurately. However, it is cumbersome, moreover, it takes a long time to send signals back and forth – for example, a round trip to Mars takes about 40 minutes. It’s easy to imagine that this would be a serious problem during a manned mission to the Red Planet and in emergency situations.

Here comes the GPS space

To overcome this problem, NASA The size of the atomic clock has decreased And she decided to test it in outer space – a mission called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC). After the Falcon Heavy rocket launched the device into orbit, NASA launched it and began comparing it to another atomic clock on Earth.

A new atomic watch from the creators

After comparing results for more than a year, NASA found that the atomic clock in space was drifting compared to the clock on Earth by 26 picoseconds per day. This is similar to the drift observed in other Earth-based atomic clocks. It was also 10 times more stable than the clocks used in GPS satellite systems.

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In the future, any next-generation spacecraft with atomic clocks will receive a signal from Earth and calculate its position using an atomic clock on board. Scientists call it “GPS Space”.

Scientists hope that more accurate and smaller atomic clocks will allow travel to other regions of the solar system – the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Its space probes could help in the search for Planet X.

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