Deep Space Atomic Clock Moves Toward Increased Spacecraft Autonomy

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock has been operating aboard the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed satellite since June 2019. This illustration shows the spacecraft in Earth orbit. (Credits: General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems)

Designed to improve navigation for robotic explorers and the operation of GPS satellites, the technology demonstration reports a significant milestone.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Spacecraft that venture beyond our Moon rely on communication with ground stations on Earth to figure out where they are and where they’re going. NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock is working toward giving those far-flung explorers more autonomy when navigating. In a new paper published today in the journal Nature, the mission reports progress in their work to improve the ability of space-based atomic clocks to measure time consistently over long periods.

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NASA Advancing Global Navigation Satellite System Capabilities

Deployment of Bobcat-1 from the International Space Station. (Credit: Nanoracks)

by Danny Baird
​NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office

NASA is developing capabilities that will allow missions at high altitudes to take advantage of signals from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations — like GPS commonly used in the U.S. These signals — used on Earth for navigation and critical timing applications — could provide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon with reliable timing and navigation data. NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program is developing the technologies that will support this goal.

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NASA Explores Upper Limits of Global Navigation Systems for Artemis

An Orion spacecraft approaches the lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

By Danny Baird
​NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office

The Artemis generation of lunar explorers will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon, prospecting for resources, making revolutionary discoveries, and proving technologies key to future deep space exploration.

To support these ambitions, NASA navigation engineers from the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program are developing a navigation architecture that will provide accurate and robust Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for the Artemis missions. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals will be one component of that architecture. GNSS use in high-Earth orbit and in lunar space will improve timing, enable precise and responsive maneuvers, reduce costs, and even allow for autonomous, onboard orbit and trajectory determination.

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New Ground Station Brings Laser Communications Closer To Reality

Illustration of the LCRD payload transmitting an optical signal to OGS-2 in Haleakala, Hawaii. (Credit: NASA)

by Matthew D. Peters
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Optical communications, transmitting data using infrared lasers, has the potential to help NASA return more data to Earth than ever. The benefits of this technology to exploration and Earth science missions are huge. In support of a mission to demonstrate this technology, NASA recently completed installing its newest optical ground station in Haleakala, Hawaii.

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NASA Extends Deep Space Atomic Clock Mission

A technology demonstration called the Deep Space Atomic Clock could enable far-flung probes to get around using a navigation system similar to the GPS-based system we use on Earth. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — As the time when NASA will begin sending humans back to the Moon draws closer, crewed trips to Mars are an enticing next step. But future space explorers will need new tools when traveling to such distant destinations. The Deep Space Atomic Clock mission is testing a new navigation technology that could be used by both human and robotic explorers making their way around the Red Planet and other deep space destinations.

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