How Will a Lack of Atomic Clocks Delay OneWeb’s Satellite Navigation System?

3rd Aug 2020
Copernicus

The UK had originally dreamed of using its stake in OneWeb, a newly acquired satellite company, in developing a satellite navigation system. However, the shortage of space-ready atomic clocks could hamper the plan. A document from the UK Space Agency, said that there is no current source that can produce the much needed atomic clocks. These clocks aid the navigation system that relies on the low earth orbit satellites for OneWeb.

The business department civil servants and the Cabinet Office, who have seen the warning, says that relying on easier and cheaper to produce clocks could result in an inaccurate space-based location system.

The UK Government will invest $500m in a 45%-stake in OneWeb after a successful bid recently. It plans to use the space company for internet broadband service. It is also considering developing a navigation system that resembles the American GPS program used for car navigation and smartphone systems. The UK Space Agency left the EU’s Galileo project after Brexit.

OneWeb Projects Require Thousands of Atomic Clocks

Unlike the Galileo project, the OneWeb project requires a massive constellation of satellites to cover the Earth’s surface, which will require thousands of atomic clocks. The time signals sent by these clocks are for triangulating receivers on the ground. Any difference in seconds can result in significant errors. Although thousands of atomic clocks are produced for high-frequency and telecoms network traders, they are highly sensitive. Thus, creating space-ready clocks is a great challenge. In 2017, Galileo delayed the launches of some satellites when atomic clocks manufactured in Switzerland malfunctioned.

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