The Next Falcon Heavy Will Carry the Most Powerful Atomic Clock Ever Launched into Space

Feb 9, 2018

By Rafi Letzter

An ultra-precise atomic clock the size of a four-slice toaster is set to zip into outer space this summer, NASA said.

This isn’t your average timekeeper. The so-called Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) is far smaller than Earth-bound atomic clocks, far more precise than the handful of other space-bound atomic clocks, and more resilient against the stresses of space travel than any clock ever made. According to a NASA statement, it’s expected to lose no more than 2 nanoseconds (2 billionths of a second) over the course of a day. That comes to about 7 millionths of a second over the course of a decade.

In an email to Live Science, Andrew Good, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory representative, said the first DSAC will hitch a ride on the second Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled for June.

Atomic clocks are the most powerful time-measuring devices human beings have ever built. Broadly speaking, they work by observing atoms that are known to do certain things — like emit light — extremely regularly and quickly, then counting how many times those atoms do those things. The most powerful atomic clocks on Earth can go billions of years without losing a second of time.

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