(NASA) A recent upgrade to NASA’s Cold Atom Lab has enabled atom interferometry on the International Space Station (ISS), forming the basis of a new generation of exquisitely precise quantum sensors that scientists can use to explore the universe. Applications of these spaceborne quantum sensors include tests of general relativity, searches for dark energy and gravitational waves, spacecraft navigation and drag referencing, and gravity science, including planetary geodesy—the study of a planet’s shape, orientation, and gravity field.
Achieving atom interferometry in space had been a long-sought goal of NASA and the fundamental physics community. “The promise of very low temperature gases and effectively limitless free-fall time for space-based atom interferometry is expected to open a new regime of precision for inertial force and rotation measurements that could revolutionize both contemporary gravity science and spacecraft navigation capabilities in the near future,” said Dr. Jason Williams, a Principal Investigator for atom interferometry studies onboard ISS.
This demonstration of matter-wave interferometry in space heralds a future in which space-based quantum sensors become a widely used tool for scientific exploration of the universe. Applications of the new technology include tests of general relativity, searches for dark energy and gravitational waves, spacecraft navigation, and prospecting for subsurface minerals on the moon and other planetary bodies.
The research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.