One small step for the man … a giant leap for watches.
The Deep Space Atomic Clock, a new technology from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket into Earth orbit for a year in late June, according to a latest version of JPL and reported by Xinhua .
The clock, a toaster-sized device accurate to one tenth of a millionth of a second over the course of a year, is the first instrument to look like a small GPS that is stable enough to fly in a spacecraft, the report said.
Browsers now count a spacecraft to calculate their Earth position and send location data to space in a bidirectional relay system that can take from minutes to hours to provide routes.
Weighing just 35 pounds, the new technology allows a spacecraft to know where it is without having to rely on Earth data, according to JPL. In other words, this will change the way humans navigate the solar system.
After deploying the clock in Earth orbit, engineers will test whether it can help the spacecraft locate itself in space.
If the test year of the clock in space runs well, it can pave the way for a one-way navigation future in which astronauts are guided by a GPS-like system across the surface of the Moon or can safely fly to Mars and beyond, said JPL.
"All spacecraft that explore deep space are driven by navigators here on Earth. The Deep Space Atomic Clock will change that by allowing standalone navigation on board, or standalone spacecraft, "said the mission's principal investigator, Jill Seubert.
Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeepers in the world, using the rhythmic characteristics of atoms just as a pendulum clock uses a pendulum. Since 1967, the official definition of a second is 9,192,631,770 cycles of radiation from an atom of the cesium element.
According to Phys.Org, the DSAC has proven to be up to 50 times more stable than the atomic clocks on GPS satellites in soil tests. If the mission can prove this stability in space, it will be one of the most accurate watches in the universe.
"If we go to Mars, the team will want to know where they are, and they will need to know that – potentially in real time – in case they have to make adjustments to the last minute course," Todd Ely, a space navigator and experiment leader DSAC, told Business Insider.
"If we can reproduce what we saw on the ground in our tests, once the DSAC is in space, it should be the most stable atomic clock in space."
The launch on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled for June 22 at 11:30 p.m. EDT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will be broadcast live on www.nasa.gov/live.