The White House orders NASA to create a time standard for the moon

By | April 2, 2024

By Joey Roulette and Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Tuesday directed NASA to set a uniform time standard for the moon and other celestial bodies as the United States strives to set international standards in space amid a growing moon race between countries and private parties. businesses.

The head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), according to a memo seen by Reuters, ordered the space agency to work with other parts of the U.S. government to come up with a plan by the end of 2026 to determine what it wants to achieve. called a coordinated lunar time (LTC).

The different gravitational forces, and possibly other factors, on the moon and on other celestial bodies change how time unfolds compared to how it is observed on Earth. Among other things, the LTC would provide a benchmark for timekeeping for lunar spacecraft and satellites that require extreme precision for their missions.

“The same clock we have on Earth would move at a different speed on the moon,” Kevin Coggins, NASA’s chief of space communications and navigation, said in an interview.

OSTP chief Arati Prabhakar’s memo stated that for a person on the moon, an Earth-based clock would lose an average of 58.7 microseconds per Earth day and come up with other periodic variations that would leave lunar time further from Earth time to differ.

“Think of the atomic clocks at the US Naval Observatory (in Washington). They are the heartbeat of the nation and synchronize everything. You’re going to want a heartbeat on the moon,” Coggins said.

Under its Artemis program, NASA aims to send astronaut missions to the moon in the coming years and establish a lunar scientific base that could pave the way for future missions to Mars. Dozens of companies, spacecraft and countries are involved in the effort.

An OSTP official said that without a uniform lunar time standard, it would be challenging to ensure that data transmission between spacecraft is secure and that communications between Earth, lunar satellites, bases and astronauts are synchronized.

Differences in time could also lead to errors in mapping and locating positions on or in lunar orbit, the official said.

‘How disruptive’

“Imagine if the world didn’t synchronize its clocks to the same time – how disruptive that could be and how challenging everyday things could become,” the official said.

On Earth, most clocks and time zones are based on Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. This internationally recognized standard is based on an extensive global network of atomic clocks located in various locations around the world. They measure changes in the state of atoms and generate an average that ultimately determines a precise time.

According to the OSTP official, the deployment of atomic clocks on the lunar surface may be necessary.

The official also said that as commercial activities expand to the moon, a uniform time standard would be essential for coordinating operations, ensuring the reliability of transactions and managing the logistics of lunar trade.

NASA said in January that it has scheduled its first moon landing for astronauts since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s for September 2026, with a mission involving four astronauts flying around the moon and back planned for September 2025.

While the United States is the only country to put astronauts on the moon, other countries have lunar ambitions. Countries have their eyes on potential mineral resources on the moon, and moon bases could help support future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere.

China said last year it aims to put its first astronauts on the moon by 2030. In January, Japan became the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the moon. India last year became the first country to land a spacecraft near the moon’s unexplored south pole, and the country has announced plans to send an astronaut to the moon by 2040.

“U.S. leadership in defining an appropriate standard – one that achieves the accuracy and resiliency required to operate in the challenging lunar environment – ​​will benefit all spacefaring nations,” the OSTP memo said.

Defining how to implement coordinated lunar time will require international agreements, the memo said, through “existing standards bodies” and among the 36 countries that have signed a pact, called the Artemis Accords, on how countries act in the space and on the moon. China and Russia, the two main US rivals in space, have not signed the Artemis Accords.

Coordinated Universal Time could affect how Coordinated Lunar Time is implemented, the OSTP official said. The UN International Telecommunications Union defines coordinated universal time as an international standard.

his story has been refiled to correct an abbreviation error in paragraph 11)

(Reporting by Joey Roulette and Will Dunham, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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