China’s super-thin atomic clocks achieve mass production

August 22, 2019  - By
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Photo: Beidou constellation

Photo: Beidou constellation

China’s super-thin rubidium atomic clock, which is just 17 millimeters thick, has been put into mass production, according to Xinhua News Agency.

The clock, developed in 2018 by a research institute under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. Ltd, (CASIC) is the key to the positioning and timing accuracy of BeiDou navigation satellites.

In 2015, Chinese scientists developed a rubidium clock that is tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand but was almost 40 millimeters thick. The new clock, with a length of 76 millimeters and width of 76 millimeters, is only 17 millimeters thick.

Compared with the previous generation, the new clock is smaller in size but performs better. It adopts a plug-in design, making it easy to insert and remove on circuit board. With stronger resistance to high temperatures, it can work at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).

In addition, it has a taming function, enabling the clock to be automatically recognized and tamed by the pulse per second (PPS) signal provided by navigation satellite systems, improving the accuracy of local frequency.

The clock can be used in fields such as aviation, aerospace and telecommunications. According to its developers, the ultra-accurate clock will have a broader market prospect in the future.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate time and frequency standards. They use vibrations of atoms to measure time. Due to its small size, low cost and high reliability, rubidium clock is the most widely produced atomic clock.

A large number of self-developed rubidium and hydrogen atomic clocks have been carried by satellites that provide accurate positioning for China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.

The atomic clocks are the workhorses that send synchronized signals so sat-nav receivers can triangulate their position on Earth.

China began to construct the BDS in the 1990s. The system started serving China with its BDS-1 satellites in 2000 and started serving the Asia-Pacific region with its BDS-2 satellites in 2012. China will complete the BDS global network by 2020.

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Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006, and also is editor of GPS World’s sister website, Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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