According to NASA, atomic clocks are considered the most accurate means of timekeeping. They measure very stable and precise frequencies of light emitted by specific atoms. (NASA)
The Navy has awarded a small New York company a $20 million contract to develop a compact, next-generation mercury-ion atomic clock, the Pentagon recently announced.
Frequency Electronics Inc., of Mitchel Field, NY, develops the clock for Navy applications aboard ships, aircraft and spacecraft, CEO Stan Sloane told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday.
The Office of Naval Research issued the contract, according to a Pentagon announcement Jan. 10. The completion date is January 11, 2024.
The contract calls for precision watches suitable for navy platforms that require better clock performance in environments including roll, pitch, yaw, heave and vibration, Sloane wrote.
“Mercury Ion technology should improve clock stability by an order of magnitude or better over what is currently used on tactical platforms,” according to Sloane.
According to NASA, atomic clocks are considered the most accurate means of timekeeping. They measure very stable and precise frequencies of light emitted by specific atoms. An atomic clock loses a second every 10 million years.
NASA is already using mercury ion clock technology in a deep space atomic clock launched into Earth orbit in June 2019. The technology has applications for space navigation, radio science and GPS and is 50 times more accurate than the best current navigation clocks, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion. Laboratory.
The Frequency Electronics contract calls for a compact 11 x 10 x 9-inch version of the Deep Space Clock, according to a NASA fact sheet. Sloane said his company’s version should measure 5 x 7 x 1.2 inches
Frequency Electronics designs, develops and manufactures high-precision radio frequency timing, frequency generation and control products for space and ground applications, according to the company’s website.
Its products are used in satellite payloads and other commercial, government and military systems, including command and control, electronic warfare, missiles, manned and unmanned aircraft and wireless networking.
A team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology developed mercury-ion atomic clock technology as part of the Defense Advance Research Project Agency’s Atomic Clock with Enhanced Stability program, Sloane said.
The Office of Naval Research did not respond to an email from Stars and Stripes requesting further information.
“We will work in parallel with Jet Propulsion Laboratory to move the technology from experimentation to production,” Sloane said. “We will eventually develop many varieties of these clocks suitable for various applications including space, tactical military platforms, and commercial use.”