X-ray pulsar-based navigation

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X-ray pulsar-based navigation and timing (XNAV) is a theoretical navigation technique whereby the periodic X-ray signals emitted from pulsars are used to determine the location of a spacecraft in deep space. A spacecraft using XNAV would compare received X-ray signals with a database of known pulsar frequencies and locations. Similar to GPS, this comparison would allow the spacecraft to triangulate its position accurately (±5 km). The advantage of using X-ray signals over radio waves is that X-ray telescopes can be made smaller and lighter.[1][2]

SEXTANT (Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology) is a NASA-funded project being developed at the Goddard Space Flight Center that will test XNAV on-orbit on board the International Space Station in connection with the NICER project. It is currently planned for 2017.[3][4]

On 9 November 2016 the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched an experimental pulsar navigation satellite called XPNAV 1.[5][6] XPNAV-1 will characterize 26 nearby pulsars for their pulse frequency and intensity to create a navigation database that could be used by future operational missions. The satellite is expected to operate for five to ten years. XPNAV-1 is the first pulsar navigation mission launched into orbit.


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