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 October 2016.[3][4]


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