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NASA To Launch New Atomic Clock Aboard Falcon Heavy

NASA will launch an atomic clock on June 24 into orbit aboard Falcon Heavy Rocket. It is developed by NASA’s JPL and is better than current atomic clocks. This will also allow autonomous long distance journeys.

Its measurement precision can allow spacecraft to act without communication with Earth. Astronomers use clocks for space navigation. The time for a signal’s round trip informs them about the position.

However, astronomers need higher precision clocks for calculating accurate distances, which also maintain their stability with regards to time measurement. Since long-distance missions require accuracy, atomic clocks need to match up.

Modern clocks use quartz crystal oscillators which have a precise vibration frequency and are accurate. But when compared to space navigation standards, these may wrong by milliseconds. That’s 185 miles knocked off distance readings in space.

Atomic clocks use quartz-based oscillators to increase stability. NASA’s DSAC uses mercury atoms. For time to be wrong by 1 second, it would require 10 million years to elapse. That’s how accurate it is. Atomic clocks use the atomic structure to maintain accuracy. Energy differences between electron orbits permit for a stable and precise value.

Atomic clocks are self-correcting in nature. The quartz oscillator’s frequency is converted into frequency applied to atoms collection from an element. If frequencies are correct, electrons will jump various energy levels. If they aren’t, fewer electrons can make the jump. This informs the clock about quartz oscillators being off-frequency. Information to correct this is also given. In DSAC, this process happens every while in a span of seconds.

DSAC also uses mercury ions that are charged. Due to this, they are placed in electromagnetic traps, which prevent interaction with vacuum chamber walls. Such interaction usually leads to environmental changes like temperature affecting atoms and causing frequency errors.

DSAC won’t have such problems and have 50 times higher stability that those clocks used in GPS Sats. The clock’s precision will be tested after the launch. The launch will be from KSC in Florida.

Stephen Baxter

Stephen  Baxter —with a degree in Astrophysics and experience of 4 years—serves as a content writer in our organization. He is given the responsibility to write blogs and news articles relating to the outer space and galaxies, findings & discoveries, new satellite & spacecraft liftoffs, new inventions & innovations, and much more. In spare time, Stephen helps kids in their science projects and assignments and also likes to travel around & wander new places.

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