Washington: NASA has said it is preparing to send its deep space atomic clock on a test flight in 2018 as a hosted payload on General Atomic’s Orbital Test Bed spacecraft aboard the US Air Force Space Technology Program (STP-2) mission.
The the “Deep Space Atomic Clock” (DSAC) aims to provide accurate onboard timekeeping for future missions, NASA said on Tuesday.
“We have lofty goals for improving deep space navigation and science using DSAC,” said DSAC’s principal investigator Todd Ely of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
JPL scientists have been perfecting the clock for 20 years now.
Currently, most missions rely on ground-based antennas paired with atomic clocks for navigation. Ground antennas send narrowly focused signals to spacecraft, which, in turn, return the signal.
NASA uses the difference in time between sending a signal and receiving a response to calculate the spacecraft’s location, velocity and path.
This method, though reliable,…