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    NASA creates new system for interplanetary GPS

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    NASA recently built a critical system that will finally let them test an 'interplanetary GPS' through detecting pulses of X-rays from dead stars. This system could be installed on the International Space Station as early as 2017.

    Currently, space navigation relies on a network of earth bound tracking stations using radio waves. However, the further away the craft from Earth, the poorer the resolution becomes. The new system replies on pulsars. A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. As it rotates, the radiation can only be observed when the beam of emission is pointing towards the Earth which results in regular pulses of light and darkness that produce precise and stable intervals to be utilized for high-accuracy navigation.

    A spacecraft would carry a XNAV receiver, which is similar to a GPS receiver. The receiver would detect X-ray photons in multiple pulsars and it would create a light curve from the collected data. The peak in each light curve would be tagged with a precise time and the spacecraft could calculate its position through studying the pattern of the peaks.

    NASA has built the Goddard X-ray Navigation Laboratory Testbed which is composed of pulsar-processing software and hardware, a modulated X-ray source and a built-in detector in order to test the system. It was reported that an instrument equipped with X-ray navigation technology is set to fly aboard the space station by 2017.


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