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The tech we need for Deep Space exploration

Nasa atomic clock

Nasa's atomic clock has error rate of a nanosecond every 10 days. Image credit: Nasa/JPL

The fabric of space and time bends, so how do distant spacecraft – and even satellites close to Earth – keep precise-enough time to navigate? Now being developed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) will be 50 times more accurate than anything we have now. It uses radio frequencies to determine position, and will enable probes far from Earth to both navigate and collect data more precisely.

Just as clocks in GPS-based satellites are corrected daily to account for relativity – thank you, Einstein – so spacecraft will need to account for the distance they are from the DSAC, but it will give an accurate benchmark. Correct to a nanosecond every 10 days, and the culmination of 20 years' work, a demonstration version of this mercury-ion atomic clock will orbit Earth from next year.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and Space.com. He also edits two of his own websites, TravGear.com and WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),