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Feasibility Study for a Spacecraft Navigation System relying on Pulsar Timing Information


Acronym:    PULSAR
Code:    ARIADNA Project 03/4202
Funder:    Private Company
Company:    ESA
Start date:    2004 April 1st
End date:    2004 June 1st
Keywords:    pulsar , radioastronomy

Partners:    Universidad de Barcelona (Dpt. of Astronomy and Meteorology)
SPCOM Participants:    Josep Sala Alvarez, Andreu Urruela Planas and Javier Villares Piera
SPCOM Responsible:    Josep Sala Alvarez
Related links:    ATNF Pulsar Catalogue and Dpt. of Astronomy and Meteorology (UB)


ESA project under the ARIADNA programme (Advanced Concepts Team) for collaboration with academia. It approaches the definition and performance evaluation of synchronization and location algorithms for deep space navigation based on timing information from stellar pulsating radio and X-ray sources (pulsars). The extreme frequency stability of pulsars and the ubiquity of their signals has been advocated for in the past for the establishment of a universal time base and for navigation within the solar system and beyond. We establish fundamental bounds to the performance of pulsar-based algorithms for universal location in the (x,y,z,t) coordinates. Theoretical evaluation of the optimum syncrhonizer has been performed at the low signal-to-noise power ratio (SNR) regime, as required by antenna size constraints aboard the spacecraft and the faintness of pulsar signals. Instrument complexity, and in the case of radio pulsars, also processing complexity, have been identified as the main limitation factors.

Conference publications

[1] J. Sala Alvarez, A. Urruela Planas, Javier Villares, S. Blanch, J. Romeu, R. Estalella and J. M. Paredes, "Pulsar Navigation", ACT Workshop on Innovative Concepts - A Bridge to Space, Vol. 1, January 2008, pp. 1 - 10.