Scientists test optical clock technology in space, a first

#Optical #Technology Scientists test optical clock technology in space, a first: The tests proved the technology’s ability to survive rocket launch conditions and function properly in space, paving the way for its incorporation 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. “The optical clock performed the same in space as it had on the ground, showing that our system engineering worked very well.”

Optical clocks use the frequencies of oscillating atoms or ions as their time-keeping benchmark. The faster frequencies allow optical clocks to keep more accurate time than microwave atomic clocks. A more precise clock will allow GPS instruments to make more accurate measurements.

Optical clocks require a frequency comb, a gear-like component that measures the high-speed optical frequencies against microwave-based reference atomic clock. Current frequency combs are burdensomely large and require large amounts of energy.

Researchers in the United States, Germany and Sweden teamed up to build a much smaller frequency comb out of optical fibers. Its small size and limited energy demand make it ideal for use in space satellites.

Last year, the clock was taken by rocket on a 6-minute parabolic flight into space, allowing researchers to measure the technology’s ability to withstand launch conditions and perform under microgravity.

As detailed in a new paper, published this week in the journal Optica, the technology passed the tests.

“Applications based on frequency combs are quite important for future space-based optical clocks, precision metrology and earth observation techniques,” concluded Lezius. “The space technology readiness of frequency combs is developing at a fast pace.”source:upi


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