Faculty of Science

Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space

Mike Tobar

Researchers from the School of Physics are working towards making Western Australia the primary Southern Hemisphere hub for future space missions, including a fascinating mission being led by the European Space Agency, known as the Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space (ACES), which plans to take the world’s first laser-cooled atomic clock into outer space in 2016. 

The atomic clock will be installed on the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS), and the frequency reference generated on-board the ISS will be used by a worldwide network of ground terminals, including UWA, to perform comparisons with the best available atomic clocks on the ground.

ARC Laureate Fellow and Winthrop Professor Michael Tobar is the focal point for Australian participation in space experiments involving precision clocks and oscillators. He explains that UWA will have two connections to the ACES mission: there will be a clock here at UWA using optical frequencies, which will then send a signal via fibre to the Yarragadee laser-ranging station (near Geraldton in W.A.), and the two clock signals will be beamed up to the clock on-board the ISS together.

The ACES mission aims to demonstrate the performances of a new generation of space clocks; to achieve time and frequency transfer with stability better than 10-16; and to perform fundamental physics tests, such as Einstein’s Equivalence Principle.

Professor Tobar says that UWA is also aiming to become part of a European laser-timing collaboration, and because of our close connection to Yarragadee – which is the best laser-ranging station in the world – the collaboration is very interested in working with us.

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