What will be the standard time of the Moon. NASA will create a lunar time reference system

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has until the end of 2026 to establish a lunar time reference system.

NASA wants to establish the lunar time PHOTO: Archive

In a memo sent by the head of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Tuesday, the space agency called for working with other US and international agencies to establish a Moon-centered time reference system. NASA has until the end of 2026 to establish what is called Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC), writes theguardian.com.

It's not a time zone like Earth's, but an entire frame of reference for the Moon. Because there is less gravity on the Moon, time moves a bit faster there – 58.7 microseconds each day – than it does on Earth. Among other things, LTC would provide a reference point for measuring time for spacecraft and lunar satellites that need extreme precision for their missions.

“An atomic clock on the Moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth,” said Kevin Coggins, NASA's top communications and navigation official. “It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the Moon or Mars, each has its own heartbeat.”

NASA plans to send astronaut missions to the lunar surface starting in September 2026 through the Artemis program, which will also eventually establish a scientific lunar base that could help prepare future missions to Mars. Dozens of companies, spacecraft and countries are involved in this effort.

Without a unified lunar time standard, an OSTP official told Reuters, it would be difficult to ensure that data transfers between spacecraft are secure and that communications between Earth, lunar satellites, bases and astronauts are synchronized.

Time discrepancies could also lead to errors in mapping and locating positions on the Moon or in orbit, the official said.

“Imagine if the world didn't synchronize their clocks to the same time, how disruptive this could be and how challenging everyday things would become,” the official said.

Clocks and time zones on Earth operate based on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is recognized internationally. It is based on a vast global network of atomic clocks placed in various locations around the world. They measure the changes in the states of the atoms and generate an average that ultimately makes up an accurate time.

Development of LTC may require placing atomic clocks on the Moon.

According to the memorandum, defining how to implement the LTC will require international agreements, through “existing standardization bodies” and among the 36 nations that have signed a pact called the Artemis Accords, which involve how countries act in space and on the Moon. China and Russia, the US's two main rivals in space, have not signed the Artemis Accords.

UTC could influence how LTC is implemented, the official said. The International Telecommunication Union of the UN defines UTC as an international standard.

The International Space Station, in low Earth orbit, will continue to use Coordinated Universal Time. But where the new spacetime takes effect is something NASA needs to determine. Even time on Earth speeds up and slows down, requiring split seconds.

Unlike Earth, there will be no daylight saving time on the moon, Coggins said.