Pulsars rotate at speeds ranging from one to hundreds of revolutions per second. These are celestial bodies, each between 19 and 24 kilometers in diameter. The authors of the new work suggested using these stars as trackers to determine the direction in which a spacecraft is moving.
Usually, to find out the exact location of a spacecraft, radio signals are used. They are sent between the ship and Earth. This can take a long time, and a lot of powerful computing equipment is needed.
If you use X-ray navigation, it solves both of the problems described above. But previously, in order for such a system to work, it was necessary to transmit the initial position of the spacecraft – the starting point. Now scientists have created a system in which it is not necessary to send this preliminary information, so the spacecraft can move autonomously.
The authors note that Earth’s atmosphere filters out all X-rays, so you have to be in space to observe them. Pulsars emit electromagnetic radiation that looks like pulses. Each pulsar has its own distinctive signal, it looks like a fingerprint. The authors now have X-ray records from 2,000 or so pulsars and how they have changed over time.
So the researchers tried to determine the position of the spacecraft within regions that are several astronomical units in diameter, such as the size of Jupiter’s orbit.
The algorithm, developed by graduate student Kevin Lohan, combines observations of numerous pulsars to determine all possible positions of the spacecraft. The algorithm processes the intersections in two or three dimensions.
The results showed that by observing pulsars with longer periods and small angular distances, it is possible to reduce the number of possible positions of any spacecraft.
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