- Aug 4, 2021
In an email sent to Live Science, by Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, stated that the first Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) will have a ride into the outer space on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June. NASA reports that the ultra-precise Atomic Clock which is the size of a four-slice toaster will be launched into space.
The DSAC is not an average timekeeper; it is much smaller than the Earth-bound Atomic clocks, it is much more precise than any other space-bound atomic clocks and much more resistant against the stresses of space travel that any clock has ever made. According to NASA, it is expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That happens to make 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade.
The most powerful man-made time-measuring devices that have ever been made are the Atomic clocks. it works by detecting the things that atoms do like, emit light regularly and quickly, and then counting the number of times the atoms do those things. It can go billions of years without losing a second of time on Earth.
It is a big deal and of much importance to measure time precisely as all sorts of scientific experiments rely on measuring fractions of a second without errors. The Global Positioning System (GPS) also rely on the precise measurements of the time. To determine the location in space of spacecraft beyond Earth’s orbit also rely on Earth-bound atomic clocks and radio signals. The deep-space mission needs to send signals to ground stations on Earth.
The ground station then measures the time taken for the signals to arrive with the help of atomic clocks, to get the exact position of the spacecraft in the vast vacuum. The signals are then sent back telling them where they are and where to go next. The target is to allow spacecraft to make precise timing measurements onboarding a spacecraft, without waiting for information from Earth.
According to NASA, a DSAC provisioned space-craft could calculate time without waiting for measurements from Earth thus enabling to make adjustments or perform science experiments without waiting for any Earthwards reply.
In 2006 it was published that DSAC measures the behavior of a single trapped, laser-cooled mercury ion relying on a relatively new atomic clock technology. The ion “ticks” much faster than the cesium atoms in older atomic clocks. The DSAC is designed in a way that it doesn’t lose time under the stresses of the deep cold of outer space and also to draw very little power. It could be redesigned to a more miniature size in the future missions.
After the launch, the DSAC will orbit for about a year to test its performance. NASA wrote that the technology could be used to improve the GPS system, in addition, to use it for deep-space missions.