Working Overtime: NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock Completes Mission

This illustration shows NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock technology demonstration and the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed spacecraft that hosts it. Spacecraft could one day depend on such instruments to navigate deep space. (Credits: NASA)

Geared toward improving spacecraft navigation, the technology demonstration operated far longer than planned and broke the stability record for atomic clocks in space.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — For more than two years, NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock has been pushing the timekeeping frontiers in space. On Sept. 18, 2021, its mission came to a successful end.

The instrument is hosted on General Atomics’ Orbital Test Bed spacecraft that was launched aboard the Department of Defense Space Test Program 2 mission June 25, 2019. Its goal: to test the feasibility of using an onboard atomic clock to improve spacecraft navigation in deep space.

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Deep Space Atomic Clock Moves Toward Increased Spacecraft Autonomy

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock has been operating aboard the General Atomics Orbital Test Bed satellite since June 2019. This illustration shows the spacecraft in Earth orbit. (Credits: General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems)

Designed to improve navigation for robotic explorers and the operation of GPS satellites, the technology demonstration reports a significant milestone.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Spacecraft that venture beyond our Moon rely on communication with ground stations on Earth to figure out where they are and where they’re going. NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock is working toward giving those far-flung explorers more autonomy when navigating. In a new paper published today in the journal Nature, the mission reports progress in their work to improve the ability of space-based atomic clocks to measure time consistently over long periods.

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