White House orders NASA to create time standard for the moon and beyond

The White House has tasked NASA with developing a unified time standard, Coordinated Lunar Time, for the Moon and other celestial bodies by 2026. This initiative aims to enhance navigation, communication, and coordination for future missions to the Moon and beyond, including Mars. The project involves international collaboration and supports the growing interest in lunar exploration by various nations and private companies, including upcoming manned missions.

 Sphere, Lighting, Text, Astronomy, Moon, Nature, Night, Outdoors

The White House has instructed NASA to create a unified time standard for the Moon by the end of 2026. This new standard, called ‘Coordinated Lunar Time’ (LTC), is intended to be linked to the main time standard used on Earth, the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). According to Reuters, Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), has ordered the space agency to work with other departments of the federal government to develop a strategy by the end of 2026.

The first aim is to improve navigation and other operational parameters for missions in the region between Earth and the Moon, which is called cislunar space. LTC will focus on traceability to UTC, accuracy for precision navigation and science, resilience to loss of contact with Earth, and scalability to regions beyond cislunar space.

Why does it matter?

NASA seeks to send manned trips to the moon in the coming years while also establishing a research lunar station, paving the way for future Mars expeditions. The project involves several private firms and governments.
According to the OSTP, without a consistent lunar time standard, it will be difficult to guarantee safe data transfers between spacecraft as well as synchronized communications between Earth, astronauts, lunar bases, and satellites. Time differences might cause errors when mapping and pinpointing sites on or circling the moon. A consistent time standard will be essential for coordinating operations, ensuring transaction reliability, and managing lunar logistics

The US aims to set international norms in space amid a growing lunar race among nations and private companies. An international agreement between current standard bodies will be necessary to adopt LTC. The Artemis Accords, which oversee how countries engage in space and on the moon, have been signed by 36 states, excluding Russia and China. In January, NASA announced that the first manned lunar landing since 1970 and the end of the Apollo program would take place in September 2026. Another mission taking four astronauts around the moon is set for September 2025.

Even if the US is the only country to have landed people on the moon, other countries have declared their ambitions, including exploiting minerals on the celestial body. Last year, China said it intended to send its first astronauts to the moon by 2030, and India became the first country to land a spacecraft close to the unexplored lunar south pole. In January, Japan joined the select group of six countries to have landed a spacecraft on the moon. Future lunar outposts might also prove useful in supporting expeditions to Mars and beyond.