Pulsars map the way for space missions

Artist’s impression of a rotation-powered pulsar. The neutron star appears as a pulsating source of radiation if the rotating emission beam crosses the observer’s line of sight. Averaging these periodic pulses of intensity over many rotation cycles results in a stable pulse profile. Because of the timing stability of most pulsars, the arrival time of pulses can be predicted with very high precision, which is an essential requirement for a navigation system based on pulsar observations

Artist’s impression of a rotation-powered pulsar. The neutron star appears as a pulsating source of radiation if the rotating emission beam crosses the observer’s line of sight. Averaging these periodic pulses of intensity over many rotation cycles results in a stable pulse profile. Because of the timing stability of most pulsars, the arrival time of pulses can be predicted with very high precision, which is an essential requirement for a navigation system based on pulsar observations

Autonomous Spacecraft Navigation With Pulsars
Werner Becker, Mike G. Bernhardt, Axel Jessner
An external reference system suitable for deep space navigation can be defined by fast spinning and strongly magnetized neutron stars, called pulsars.
Their beamed periodic signals have timing stabilities comparable to atomic clocks and provide characteristic temporal signatures that can be used as natural navigation beacons, quite similar to the use of GPS satellites for navigation on Earth.
By comparing pulse arrival times measured on-board a spacecraft with predicted pulse arrivals at a reference location, the spacecraft position can be determined autonomously and with high accuracy everywhere in the solar system and beyond.
The unique properties of pulsars make clear already today that such a navigation system will have its application in future astronautics.
In this paper we describe the basic principle of spacecraft navigation using pulsars and report on the current development status of this novel technology….
Read more http://arxiv.org/pdf/1305.4842v1.pdf

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