Image: NASA

Blog Editor’s Note: The author of this article is President of the RNT Foundation.


UK takes £6.7M step toward resilient timing architecture

April 9, 2021  – By 

The United Kingdom’s National Timing Centre will conduct a two-phase series of funded studies and demonstrations focusing on “innovation in the dissemination and application of resilient time, frequency and synchronisation.”

The first round now being advertised is for feasibility studies of projects costing between £50,000 and £250,000. Total funding for the round is £2M. A briefing for interested parties will be held on April 20.

The second round and remaining funding will be devoted to technology demonstrations.

The UK’s National Timing Centre was established in response to several national studies and concerns about the vulnerability of space-based timing services.

Severe solar storms, called coronal mass ejections, were listed on the UK National Risk Register in 2012. While rare, these events can damage assets in space and on the ground.

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the New York Railroad Storm. It was so powerful, telegraph offices were set on fire in the U.S. and Europe, fuses were blown, and equipment damaged. Even underwater telegraph cable traffic was affected.

Experts say if such a storm were to strike the Earth today, it would likely damage GPS and other GNSS satellites. At a minimum, it would charge the atmosphere and prevent signals from getting through for days.

Projects that will be considered for the UK competition must be technologies and application areas providing trust, assurance, security and resilience for time distribution.

While supported by Innovate UK, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which operates the virtual National Timing Centre, appears to be the primary agent for execution. NPL will offer applicants who are selected to participate in the feasibility study phase free technical consultation up to 12 hours, and free access to highly precise and accurate time signals from four NPL locations in the southeast of England.

Since its inception, the National Timing Centre seems to have concentrated on establishing distributed suites of atomic clocks, probably linked by fiber, as a first step to improving the nation’s timing resilience.

Industry observers have opined that future efforts are likely to focus on wireless distribution.

“Wireless requires less infrastructure and has no user limit,” said one. “It only makes sense they would go there once they feel they have a solid clock foundation.”

The competition is open to UK entities. Applications will be accepted April 19-June 9,  with accepted participants notified on July 30.