DARPA’s ROCKn Program Aims To Make Optical Atomic Clocks Portable

DARPA has announced a new initiative called the Robust Optical Clock Network (ROCkN) program, which will look to develop a practical, super-accurate optical atomic clock that is robust and small enough to fit inside a military aircraft, warship, or field vehicle. New Atlas reports: Ignoring a lot of technical details, a conventional atomic clock works by using a beam of microwaves to measure the frequency of the target atoms, but by replacing the microwaves with light, the accuracy is boosted by a factor of 100. In fact, such optical clocks are so accurate that the most advanced wouldn't gain or lose a second through the entire lifespan of the universe. Such optical atomic clocks have been built, but they're still huge, delicate, room-filling machines that aren't practical for military application. The goal of DARPA's ROCKn program is to study the basic physics of the principle behind the optical clock and find a way to make optical atomic clocks with low size, weight, and power (SWaP). Not only that, they will be more precise and accurate than current state-of-the-art atomic clocks. To do this, ROCKn will first look to produce a robust, high-precision small portable optical clock that can maintain picosecond accuracy for 100 seconds at a time. This clock would be small enough to install in a fighter jet or satellite and tough enough to withstand the temperatures, acceleration, and vibrational noise of such an environment. The second stage will aim to create a larger transportable version that can be used in a Navy ship or field unit that is accurate to a nanosecond for up to 30 days without an outside GPS signal.

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