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New Deep Space Atomic Clock to provide GPS timing matrix for future space exploration missions

by gps4us news 2011-12-15 15:01


Atomic Clock for next generation space missionsAmong most important projects for future space exploration as the must-have technologies a deep space atomic clock is as important as a giant solar sail design and a novel laser communication system. Precise timing and navigation are critical to the success of deep space and near-Earth exploration missions. The Deep Space Atomic Clock is small, low-mass device based on mercury-ion trap technology. Its demonstration mission will fly on an Iridium spacecraft to validate its accuracy which is expected to be at ten to hundred times better than time service providing systems used in today's outer space and common use GPS navigation systems on the road, on the water, or handheld GPS navigators. The project will demonstrate ultra-precision timing in space. The Deep Space Atomic Clock will make use of GPS signals to demonstrate precision orbit determination and confirm the clock’s performance. The demonstration mission will bring the improved atomic clock technology to a technological readiness level that will allow it to be used in a wide variety of future human and robotic space exploration missions.

Deep Space kepler MissionIf successful the future mission could be extended to follow-up to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A spacecraft equipped with the Deep Space Atomic Clock could avoid reliance on two-way communications using NASA’s Deep Space Network to perform orbital determination. One of the benefits of avoiding said reliance on two-way communications would allow the mission to only require the Deep Space Network for one-way communication to transmit scientific data to Earth. Reducing the reliance on two-way communications would provide an additional benefit of cost savings. Just for this project alone the estimated $11 million dollar reduction in network operational costs is possible, along with two fold increase in the amount usable science and navigation data. The dramatic improvement of atomic clock stability for the next generation GPS system promises new levels of timing data quality leads to 10 times more accurate GPS navigation. Along with optical communications technology which provides data rates up to 100-times higher than today’s communication systems, the deep space atomic clock is vital component of  new timing and laser communication platform which will be needed for future human and robotic space missions. An unprecedented atomic clock stability of the outer space exploration missions spacecraft is among key qualities needed for a next-generation deep space navigation, functioning of scientific instruments, laser and radio communications. 

Atomic clock for deep space missions

Each GPS receiver and GPS enabled navigation device on board of satellite or spacecraft relies on accurate timing signals to ensure the proper operation of scientific instruments. In case of GPS satellite constellation, where each satellite carries on board several atomic clocks, accurate timing is most essential, otherwise any GPS receiver or navigation system relying on high accuracy of GPS signals to navigate could be misdirected. The new atomic clock and laser communication systems should provide synergistic results that together greatly improve spacecraft navigation and communications capabilities. Combining these navigation and communication systems will allow spacecraft to communicate more quickly and effectively than ever before.




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