Space + Flight

06
Jun

An Intergalactic GPS System

Francie Diep, writing for Popular Science:

You’re probably already used to getting great GPS coverage in many of the places you visit. Now get ready for GPS in space. NASA is working to build a navigation system that would work anywhere in our solar system and beyond, IEEE Spectrum reported.

Spacecraft typically navigate using radio signals from Earth, but that method grows less reliable the deeper we delve into space. So scientists have turned to neutron stars for help.

Certain neutron stars, called pulsars, emit powerful beams of light while spinning rapidly. NASA compares pulsar light to lighthouse beams. Their movement is extremely regular, so a spacecraft detecting those beams will know exactly where each beam is expected to be in space at any given time, and thus calculate where it is in space, too. Pulsar beams are detectable in “every conceivable” point in space where people might want to fly in the future, Ken Gendreau, the lead scientist in the project, said in a statement.

It’ll probably be some time before “there’s an app for that,” but it’s still an exciting development for astrophysical technology. Sebastian Anthony, writing for ExtremeTech, has more on on the physics behind the scheme.