4 mins read 10 May 2022

Next-generation atomic clock designed for space awarded $1 million in funding

SmartSat CRC awarded $1 million to QuantX to help develop its optical atomic clock satellite that will have improved performance while significantly reducing its size, weight and power consumption.

Andre Luiten , QuantX Co-founder and Managing Director and Andy Koronios, SmartSat CRC CEO and Managing Director. Credit: Supplied by SmartSat CRC.

SmartSat CRC has been awarded $1 million in funding to QuantX Labs in partnership with The University of Adelaide to help develop a new type of atomic clock that aims to be the basis for future Australian sovereign navigation and timing capability. The partnership will fast-track the space qualification and potential commercialisation of the new optical atomic clock which will have improved performance while significantly reducing its size, weight and power consumption.  

The new technology behind the optical clock was created in the Precision Measurement Group at The University of Adelaide, and developed into a product in a collaboration between QuantX Labs, The University of Adelaide, and the SmartSat CRC Aurora Space Cluster start-up incubator.

QuantX’s optical clock uses high-precision lasers to interrogate a specially prepared vapour of Rubidium atoms delivering improved timing performance which is crucial to global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), such as GPS. The optical clock is the central technology of QuantX Labs’ Alternate Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) product.

QuantX Labs Founder and Managing Director Prof. Andre Luiten said that the next-generation optical clocks are designed to be cheaper, smaller and more precise clocks than those currently used in GNSS satellites.

“Access to sovereign satellite-based timing and positioning information is vital for the smooth operation and security of numerous Australian businesses as well as the defence forces.

“This funding will help us build momentum in our atomic clock development – which is vital for the space and terrestrial components of our alternate precision navigation and timing products.

“This latest project with SmartSat CRC is crucial to accelerate progress as we plan to trial the Compact Optical Clock in space within the next 24 months. This latest funding builds on SmartSat’s ongoing support, having supported the research and development through the Aurora Space Cluster, as well as facilitating connections with industry and government partners to help us bring the space clock to market,” said Prof Luiten.

SmartSat CRC CEO Professor Andy Koronios said they were excited to be involved in the development of the ‘transformational’ space technology.

“The Compact Space Clock will play a vital role in building a sovereign satellite navigation capability for Australia.  This technology already matches the performance of the very best space clocks and is on track to improve performance by an order of magnitude, while at the same time significantly reducing its size, weight and power consumption.”

“In just a few years QuantX have transformed an idea into a product – from research to break-through technology. The Optical Space Clock project is an excellent and powerful example of the important role that the SmartSat CRC is playing in catalysing collaboration between universities, industry and defence and helping to build military-industrial capability.”

Dr Giuseppina Dall’Armi-Stoks, Defence’s program lead in quantum assured positioning, navigation and timing (PNT), said that the project is closely aligned with Defence priorities.

“The project builds on research and development supported by our Quantum Assured PNT research program – the Quantum Assured PNT STaR Shot – as well as the Quantum Research Network, funded through the Defence Next Generation Technologies Fund,” she said.

“These programs are aimed at ensuring that our war fighters have adequate and protected PNT capability in contested environments where critical systems such as GPS may be unreliable or unavailable.”

“This partnership between the SmartSat CRC, QuantX Labs and The University to Adelaide addresses a very real need in that space, and demonstrates that collaborations such as this are critical to delivering the capability the ADF needs, both now and into the future.”