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Pulsar Navigation: Exploring an ETI Hypothesis

15 Jan 2018, 16:38 UTC
Pulsar Navigation: Exploring an ETI Hypothesis NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Dana Berry
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Pulsar navigation may be our solution to getting around not just the Solar System but the regions beyond it. For millisecond pulsars, a subset of the pulsar population, seem to offer positioning, navigation, and timing data, enabling autonomous navigation for any spacecraft that can properly receive and interpret their signals. The news that NASA’s SEXTANT experiment has proven successful gives weight to the idea. Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology is all about developing X-ray navigation for future interplanetary travel.
At work here is NICER — Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer — which has been deployed on the International Space Station since June as an external payload. NICER deploys 52 X-ray telescopes and silicon-drift detectors in the detection of the pulsing neutron stars called pulsars. Radiation from their magnetic fields sweeps the sky in ways that can be useful. A recent demonstration used four millisecond pulsar targets — J0218+4232, B1821-24, J0030+0451, and J0437-4715 — to track NICER within a 10-mile radius as it orbited the Earth.
X-ray Pulsar Navigation (XNAV) has become an active area of research, pursued not just at NASA but by Chinese satellite testing and by conceptual studies at the European Space Agency. Having barely left ...

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