Researchers have used data from the GRAIL mission to the Moon to make the first in-flight verification of ultra-stable oscillators (USOs) with Allan deviation below 10–13 for 1-to-100-second averaging times. USOs are flown in space to provide stable timing and/or navigation signals for a variety of different science and programmatic missions.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission is flying twin spacecraft, each with its own USO and with a Ka-band crosslink used to measure range fluctuations. Data from this crosslink can be combined in such a way as to give the relative time offsets of the two spacecrafts’ USOs and to calculate the Allan deviation to describe the USOs’ combined performance while orbiting the Moon. Researchers find the first direct in-space Allan deviations below 10–13 for 1-to-100-second averaging times comparable to pre-launch data, and better than measurements from ground tracking of an X-band carrier coherent with the USO. Fluctuations in Earth’s atmosphere limit measurement performance in direct-to- Earth links. In-flight USO performance verification was also performed for GRAIL’s parent mission, the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), using both K-band and Kaband crosslinks.

This work was done by Daphna G. Enzer, William M. Klipstein, Rabi T. Wang, and Charles E. Dunn of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48705