Location: Rocket Lab, Huntington Beach CA
Photographer: NASA/Cory Huston
The goal of the CHOMPTT mission is to demonstrate new technologies that could be used for navigation and satellite networking in deep space. For future explorers and colonizers of the Moon or Mars, navigation systems like GPS here on Earth, will be essential. The key idea behind CHOMPTT is to use lasers to transfer time code data over long distances instead of radio waves. Because lasers can be more tightly beamed compared to radio waves, more of the transmitted energy reaches its intended target, making them more power-efficient. CHOMPTT takes advantage of this and of new miniature but very stable atomic clocks to produce a timing system with performance similar to that of GPS, but in a very compact and power efficient form factor. We will use a pulsed laser system, located at the Kennedy Space Center that will be synchronized with an atomic clock. Laser pulses will propagate from the ground to the orbiting CHOMPTT CubeSat and back. By precisely measuring the time of emission and detection of these pulses on the ground and in space we can calculate the time discrepancy between the ground atomic clock and the atomic clock on CHOMPTT. Our goal is to do this with an accuracy of 0.2 billionths of a second, or the time it takes light to travel just 6 centimeters. In the future, we envision using this technology on constellations or swarms of small satellites, for example orbiting the Moon, to equip them with precision navigation, networking, and ranging capabilities. CHOMPTT is a collaboration between the University of Florida and the NASA Ames Research Center. The CHOMPTT precision timing payload was designed and built by the Precision Space Systems Lab at the University of Florida, while the 3U CubeSat bus that has prior flight heritage, was provided by NASA Ames. The CHOMPTT mission has been funded by the Air Force Research Lab and by NASA.

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