Tags: pulsars | gps | space | travel

Pulsars GPS May Guide Future Space Travelers Like Today's Drivers

Image: Pulsars GPS May Guide Future Space Travelers Like Today's Drivers

Tuesday, 27 Aug 2013 08:53 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Celestial GPS for future space travel may become a reality thanks to "pulsars,"spinning stars that emit electromagnetic radiation, such as radio and X-rays, that can be used to get a fix their positioning.

Dr. George Hobbs, of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is attempting with the help of his colleagues to reverse engineer the 'blips' emitted by the pulsating stars in the hopes that one day they will be used to help navigate spacecraft, UPI.com reported.

Much like how terrestrial GPS, aka Global Positioning System, uses a network of satellites that orbit the earth to show locations and guide people to destinations, future spacecraft could one day calculate precise locations by using an X-ray telescope to observe four different pulsars every seven days, according to the scientists.

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Presently, spacecraft locations are measured from the earth; however the greater distance they are away from the planet the less accurate the measurements are.

Hobbs' pulsar-powered intergalactic GPS could solve the distance-accuracy problem, as he explained in a paper recently accepted for publication in the journal Advances in Space Research.

"We can use information from pulsars to very precisely determine the position of our telescopes," Hobbs told UPI, adding "if the telescopes were on board a spacecraft, then we could get the position of the spacecraft."

"The spacecraft can determine its position to within about 20 km, and its velocity to within 10 cm per second," Hobbs said. "To our knowledge, this is the best accuracy anyone has ever been able to demonstrate."

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In order for the system to be feasible, it "depends on a number of important practical factors, largely determined by the wavelength of the pulsar radiation that the navigation system is designed to detect," TechnologyReview.com wrote.

The radio and X-rays given off by pulsars have been measured for years, according to Hobbs, who tells UPI.com that with the development of smaller, lighter X-ray telescopes the likelihood that such pulsar research will be used aboard future spacecraft's is more possible.

Related stories:

NASA Craft's Planet-hunting Days May be Numbered

NASA Calls off Attempts to Fix Kepler Space Telescope

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