U.S. government agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced the robust Optical Clock Network (ROCkN) program, that aims to make a super-accurate optical atomic clock compact enough to fit within a military aircraft or field vehicle, a report from New Atlas reveals.
Military operations require nanosecond precision to enable military crafts to fire weapons at high speeds and extreme distances.
Even a billionth of a second error can cause a missile to miss its target. Modern armed forces rely heavily on GPS for this purpose, but the technology is not always available and can even be blocked by adversaries.
Atomic clocks could offer a solution, allowing field units to display the time with ultra-precise accuracy without requiring a connection to a GPS.
The technology uses a microwave beam to measure the frequency of atoms as they change energy state.
The most accurate type of atomic clock is the optical atomic clock, which replaces microwaves with a beam of light and increases accuracy by a factor of 100.
In fact, optical atomic clocks are so accurate that they never missed a second in the entire universe existence of more than 13 billion years.
Portable atomic clocks
Optical atomic clocks are typically large, cumbersome machines, but DARPA’s ROCKn program aims to make them smaller and lighter so they can be installed in military vehicles and even satellites.
“The goal is to make the transition from lab-developed optical configurations for atomic clocks to small and robust versions that can be operated outside of the lab,” said Tatjana Curcic, program manager at the Office of Science of Defense DARPA, in a statement.
“If we succeed, these optical clocks would offer a 100x increase in accuracy or a reduction in timing error compared to existing microwave atomic clocks, and would show improved nanosecond precision a few hours a month.”
This program could create many of the critical technologies, components, and demonstrations that lead to a possible future network architecture clock.
The technology could also have applications to space exploration.
In 2019, NASA activated its Deep Space Atomic Clock, which is important to enabling accurate space navigation in the future.
Like military operations, space navigation requires incredibly accurate reading over the vast distances traveled.
Portable optical atomic clocks therefore have the potential to enable future spacecraft to navigate the cosmos more easily.