Atomic Clock to be attached to International Space Station

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One of the world’s most accurate atomic clocks is to be launched into orbit and attached to the International Space Station (ISS) thanks to an agreement signed by the French space agency.

The PHARAO (Projet d’Horloge Atomique par Refroidissement d’Atomes en Orbite) atomic clock is to attached to the ISS in an effort to more accurately test Einstein’s theory of relatively as well as increasing the accuracy of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) amongst other geodesy experiments.

PHARAO is a next generation caesium atomic clock with an accuracy that corresponds to less than a second’s drift every 300,000 years. PHARAO is to be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2013.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping devices available to mankind yet they are susceptible to changes in gravitational pull, as predicted by Einstein’s theory, as time itself is slewed by the Earth’s pull. By placing this accurate atomic clock into orbit the effect of Earth’s gravity is lessened allowing PHARAO to be more accurate than Earth based clock.

While atomic clocks are not new to orbit, as many satellites; including the GPS network (Global Positioning System) contain atomic clocks, however, PHARAO will be among the most accurate clocks ever launched into space, allowing it to be used for far more detailed analysis.

Atomic clocks have been around since the 1960’s but their increasing development has paved the way for more and more advanced technologies. Atomic clocks form the basis of many modern technologies from satellite navigation to allowing computer networks to communicate effectively across the globe.

Computer networks receive time signals from atomic clocks via NTP time servers (Network Time Protocol) which can accurately synchronise a computer network to within a few milliseconds of UTC.


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Richard N Williams is a technical author and a specialist in the NTP Server and Time Synchronisation industry. Richard N Williams on Google+