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Optical Clock Tested In Space For The First Time

First Posted: Nov 21, 2016 04:30 AM EST
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Scientists have successfully tested an optical clock technology in space for the first time, as per recent reports. The test showed the ability of the technology to stay intact during rocket launch conditions and to function properly in space, carving the way to incorporate the technology into satellites.

"Our device represents a cornerstone in the development of future space-based precision clocks and metrology," researcher Matthias Lezius said in a news release through The Optical Society. "The optical clock performed the same in space as it had on the ground, showing that our system engineering worked very well."

Optical clocks take the help of the frequencies of oscillating ions or atoms to keep the benchmark of their time keeping. They are able to keep more accurate time compared to microwave atomic clock due to the faster frequencies.

A more precise clock also enables GPS instruments to do more accurate measurements. Incidentally, optical clocks need a frequency comb, which is a gear-like component that measures the high-speed optical frequencies against microwave-based reference atomic clock. However, the prevalent frequency combs are cumbersomely large and need a huge amount of energy.

Scientists from the United States, Sweden and Germany collaborated to create a much smaller frequency comb with optical fibers. The resultant frequency comb measures only 22 by 14.2 centimeters and weighs 22 kilograms is reportedly ideal for using in space satellites.

As per a report in the journal Optica, the newly developed clock system was taken on a research rocket for a 6-minute parabolic flight into space last year in April. The researchers were then able to measure the system's ability to withstand extreme launch conditions and perform under zero gravity, a feat that it passed.

According to Lezius, "Applications based on frequency combs are quite important for future space-based optical clocks, earth observation and precision metrology, and the space technology readiness of frequency combs is developing at a fast pace."

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