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Technology Demonstration Missions

Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Artist rendition of the Deep Space Atomic Clock. The Deep Space Atomic Clock project will fly and validate a miniaturized, ultra-precise, mercury-ion atomic clock that is orders of magnitude more stable than today’s best navigation clocks, forever changing the way we conduct deep-space navigation. The DSAC project, managed for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is building a demonstration unit and payload for launch to Earth orbit in 2017, at which time the payload will be operated for at least a year to demonstrate its functionality and utility for one-way-based navigation.

The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) project will develop a small, low mass atomic clock based on mercury-ion trap technology and demonstrate it in space providing the time keeping stability needed for the next-generation of deep space navigation and radio science. The mercury-ion clock coupled with an ultra-stable oscillator and a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver will launch as a hosted payload on the Surrey Orbital Test Bed (OTB) mission. While in orbit, the DSAC payload will make use of GPS signals to perform precision orbit determination and confirm the clock's performance. After the demonstration, future missions to both Earth orbit and deep space will be able to use the results of the DSAC demonstration to develop customized versions of DSAC for operational purposes. This demonstration will advance the TRL of the mercury-ion atomic clock from the laboratory (TRL5) to an advanced prototype flown in space (TRL7) resulting in sufficient data and experience to develop the engineering roadmap to an eventual operational version for space missions.

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