PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — NASA is sending a new technology to space in late June that will change the way we navigate our spacecraft — even how we send astronauts to Mars and beyond. Built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Deep Space Atomic Clock is a technology demonstration that will help spacecraft navigate autonomously through deep space. No larger than a toaster oven, the instrument will be tested in Earth orbit for one year, with the goal of being ready for future missions to other worlds.
Here are five key facts to know about NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock:
It works a lot like GPS
The Deep Space Atomic Clock is a sibling of the atomic clocks you interact with every day on your smart phone. Atomic clocks aboard satellites enable your phone’s GPS application to get you from point A to point B by calculating where you are on Earth, based on the time it takes the signal to travel from the satellite to your phone.
But spacecraft don’t have GPS to help them find their way in deep space; instead, navigation teams rely on atomic clocks on Earth to determine location data. The ...