DARPA Launches ROCkN Program To Create Optical Atomic Clocks, Improve Time Synchronization

DARPA has launched its Robust Optical Clock Network (ROCkN) program with the aim of creating optical atomic clocks to improve time synchronization. ROCkN expects to replace GPS atomic clocks with practical, super-accurate optical atomic clocks with low size, weight, and power (SWaP) that can be used outside of the laboratory evironment.

ROCkN consists of two-year phases, taking place over four years: 

  1. the development of a robust, high-precision, small, portable optical clock that can fit on a fighter jet or satellite. It will be capable of providing picosecond accuracy for 100 seconds, along with being able to withstand temperature, acceleration, and vibrational noise for use onboard aircraft, vehicles, and satellites; and
  2. the second phase focusing on building a larger but still transportable optical clock with unprecedented holdover performance. This transportable clock should be able to provide GPS-equivalent, nanosecond precision for 30 days in the absence of GPS. At the end of the program, synchronization between stationary, mobile, and airborne clocks will be demonstrated with timing precision sufficient for 100 GHz distributed coherence.

“The goal is to transition optical atomic clocks from elaborate laboratory configurations to small and robust versions that can operate outside the lab,” said Tatjana Curcic, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “If we’re successful, these optical clocks would provide a 100x increase in precision, or decrease in timing error, over existing microwave atomic clocks, and demonstrate improved holdover of nanosecond timing precision from a few hours to a month. This program could create many of the critical technologies, components, and demonstrations leading to a potential future networked clock architecture.”