Deep Space Atomic Clock

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Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)
Deep Space Atomic Clock-DSAC.jpg
The miniaturized Deep Space Atomic Clock was designed for precise and real-time radio navigation in deep space.
Mission typeNavigation aid in deep space, gravity and occultation science
OperatorJet Propulsion Laboratory / NASA
COSPAR ID2019-036C
SATCAT no.44341
Websitewww.nasa.gov/mission_pages/tdm/clock/index.html
Mission duration1 year (planned) [1]
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftOrbital Test Bed (OTB)
ManufacturerGeneral Atomics Electromagnetic Systems
Payload mass17.5 kg
Dimensions29 × 26 × 23 cm
(11 × 10 × 9 in)
Power44 watts
Start of mission
Launch date25 June 2019, 06:30:00 UTC [2]
RocketFalcon Heavy
Launch siteKSC, LC-39A
ContractorSpaceX
Entered service23 August 2019
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric orbit
RegimeLow Earth orbit
Epoch25 June 2019
 

The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock for precise radio navigation in deep space. It is orders of magnitude more stable than existing navigation clocks, and has been refined to limit drift of no more than 1 nanosecond in 10 days.[3] It is expected that a DSAC would incur no more than 1 microsecond of error in 10 years of operations.[4] It is expected to improve the precision of deep space navigation, and enable more efficient use of tracking networks. The project is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it was deployed as part of the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on 25 June 2019.[2]

The Deep Space Atomic Clock was activated on 23 August 2019.[5] As of June 2020, NASA has extended the DSAC mission through August 2021.[6]

Overview[edit]

Current ground-based atomic clocks are fundamental to deep space navigation, however, they are too large to be flown in space. This results in tracking data being collected and processed here on Earth (a two-way link) for most deep space navigation applications.[4] The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is a miniaturized and stable mercury ion atomic clock that is as stable as a ground clock.[4] The technology could enable autonomous radio navigation for spacecraft's time-critical events such as orbit insertion or landing, promising new savings on mission operations costs.[3] It is expected to improve the precision of deep space navigation, enable more efficient use of tracking networks, and yield a significant reduction in ground support operations.[3][7]

Its applications in deep space include:[4]

  • Simultaneously track two spacecraft on a downlink with the Deep Space Network (DSN).
  • Improve tracking data precision by an order of magnitude using the DSN's Ka-band downlink tracking capability.
  • Mitigate Ka-band's weather sensitivity (as compared to two-way X-band) by being able to switch from a weather-impacted receiving antenna to one in a different location with no tracking outages.
  • Track longer by using a ground antenna's entire spacecraft viewing period. At Jupiter, this yields a 10–15% increase in tracking; at Saturn, it grows to 15–25%, with the percentage increasing the farther a spacecraft travels.
  • Make new discoveries as a Ka-band — capable radio science instrument with a 10 times improvement in data precision for both gravity and occultation science and deliver more data because of one-way tracking's operational flexibility.
  • Explore deep space as a key element of a real-time autonomous navigation system that tracks one-way radio signals on the uplink and, coupled with optical navigation, provides for robust absolute and relative navigation.
  • Fundamental to human explorers requiring real-time navigation data.

Principle and development[edit]

Over 20 years, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been steadily improving and miniaturizing the mercury-ion trap atomic clock.[3] The DSAC technology uses the property of mercury ions' hyperfine transition frequency at 40.50 GHz to effectively "steer" the frequency output of a quartz oscillator to a near-constant value. DSAC does this by confining the mercury ions with electric fields in a trap and protecting them by applying magnetic fields and shielding.[4][8]

Its development includes a test flight in low-Earth orbit,[9] while using GPS signals to demonstrate precision orbit determination and confirm its performance in radio navigation.

Deployment[edit]

The flight unit is being hosted — along with other four payloads — on the Orbital Test Bed (OTB) satellite, provided by General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, using the Swift satellite bus.[10][11] It was deployed as a secondary spacecraft during the U.S. Air Force's Space Test Program 2 (STP-2) mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on 25 June 2019.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)". NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. Retrieved 10 December 2018. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b c Sempsrott, Danielle (25 June 2019). "NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock Deploys". NASA. Retrieved 29 June 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d Boen, Brooke (16 January 2015). "Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)". NASA/JPL-Caltech. Retrieved 28 October 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Deep Space Atomic Clock" (PDF). NASA. 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ Samuelson, Anelle (26 August 2019). "NASA Activates Deep Space Atomic Clock". NASA. Retrieved 26 August 2019. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ "NASA Extends Deep Space Atomic Clock Mission". NASA/JPL-Caltech. 24 June 2020. Retrieved 29 June 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ "NASA to test atomic clock to keep space missions on time". Gizmag. 30 April 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  8. ^ "DSAC (Deep Space Atomic Clock)". NASA. Earth Observation Resources. 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ David, Leonard (13 April 2016). "Spacecraft Powered by 'Green' Propellant to Launch in 2017". Space.com. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  10. ^ General Atomics Completes Ready-For-Launch Testing of Orbital Test Bed Satellite. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, press release on 3 April 2018.
  11. ^ OTB: The Mission. Surrey Satellite Technology. Accessed on 10 December 2018.

External links[edit]