GPS System For Space To Help Spacecraft Orientate

GPS System For Space
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA is working on its own GPS system for space. The new technology will be launching into space on June 22 and may help spacecraft navigate, especially for future space exploration. The next manned lunar mission is planned for 2024, and one day we may send astronauts to Mars too.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock, which is the name of the new GPS system for space, was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Using this technology, spacecraft will have an easier time navigating through space. The device is as small as a toaster oven and is equipped with all the necessary instruments for navigation. NASA will test it for one year in Earth’s orbit to prepare it for future space missions.

NASA explained in a statement that the GPS system for space works like the atomic clocks on our smartphones, which use satellites for GPS navigation, enabling users to get from Point A to Point B. Spacecraft can hardly orientate in the endless vacuum of space, and they currently don’t have an accurate navigation system for use in deep space. Spacecraft travel long distances, and as the distance between Earth and some objects grows, it becomes more difficult to communicate. NASA plans to improve communication using the Deep Space Atomic Clock.

Researchers wanted to enable a system that will allow for fast, effective signal transmission. Giant antennas from Earth usually don’t suffice for greater distances. The instrument will be able to autonomously monitor navigation using its onboard navigation system after receiving a signal from Earth without having to send it back.

The system also solves problems with latency and time loss. NASA tested the Deep Space Atomic Clock and found that it is 50 times more stable than the atomic clocks onboard GPS satellites. Its accuracy, if proven in space, will help researchers conduct various space-exploration missions, including sending humans to Mars and much more. Moreover, if the space tests end successfully, it will be one of the most precise atomic clocks in the universe.

The time runs accurately on the GPS system for space thanks to Mercury ions.

“The Deep Space Atomic Clock uses mercury ions — fewer than the amount typically found in two cans of tuna fish — that are contained in electromagnetic traps. Using an internal device to control the ions makes them less vulnerable to external forces,” NASA said in its statement.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock will launch on June 22 onboard the Orbital Test Bed satellite, which will be attached to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with other satellites from the government, military and research organizations. The launch is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Pacific (11:30 p.m. Eastern) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

If you want to watch the launch live, NASA will host its event on its website.