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NASA to send next-generation atomic clock into space later this year
In a major development in human exploration of space, NASA will send its next-generation atomic clock into space later this year. This will be helpful especially in future deep space exploration missions.

According to NASA, the clock which has been developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, will be smaller, lighter with magnitudes more precise than any atomic clock flown into space before.

Conventionally, most spacecraft are tracked using "two-way" methods in which the ground-based antenna `pings' the spacecraft and waits for the signal to return and then by calculating how long the signal has taken to travel, the distance to the spacecraft can be calculated.

This information is processed to determine the spacecraft's flight path and decide in case any corrections are required.

But this next-generation atomic clock enables "one-way" tracking in which the spacecraft does not need to send the signal back to Earth. This, making it a key advancement for safely navigating future missions of human exploration of the Solar System. This system will also provide astronauts with their position and velocity as and when required.

"The clock enables "one-way" tracking, where the spacecraft doesn't need to send the signal back to Earth. The tracking measurements could be taken onboard and processed with a spacecraft-based navigation system to determine the path and whether any maneuvers are needed to stay on course," NASA wrote on its website.

Since the spacecraft can be tracked with a single antenna, it will result in lightening the load on the antennas in NASA's Deep Space Network.

"This will be a key advance for safely navigating future human exploration of the solar system by providing astronauts with their position and velocity when they need it," NASA said.

Established in 1958, NASA is the space agency of US which carries out civilian space programs and aeronautics/aerospace research.

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