Land Forces 2022 — Sapphire clock earns another tick of approval


Today @AuManufacturing’s special editorial series, Land Forces 2022, looks at how an Australian invention — the world’s most precise atomic clock — fits into the Jindalee radar network upgrade.

As reported by this website, the Sapphire Cryogenic Clock made by Adelaide timing and quantum sensing business QuantX Labs has passed through full acceptance testing and is ready for inclusion in the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN). 

The company’s General Manager, Dr Martin O’Connor, told @AuManufacturing last week that it is about to build four prototypes to be tested in live operations. If successful, it would supply up to ten more of these systems for inclusion across radars at the three JORN sites, which are used in surveillance of Australia’s northern approaches.

“Three years ago we started working with BAE Systems. Our work with BAE was a culmination of seven years of work with defence, particularly on this one sapphire clock technology,” O’Connor tells us.

“The way it enhances the performance for JORN, which is looking over the horizon, 3,000 kilometres or more [is] the information about the target is encoded in the return signal. So you can imagine that the return signal has information about a target but also information about clutter – all the background noise. And the ability to discriminate the target from the clutter is enhanced by using a more pure frequency source.” 

The flagship product being used produces the purest frequency signal on the planet, and is based on a cryogenic sapphire oscillator developed by company co-founder Professor Andre Luiten during PhD work in the 1990s.   

The team’s work on the clock – so precise will lose only a second over 40 million years – earned it a Eureka prize in 2018.

In this episode of @AuManufacturing Conversations with Brent Balinski, O’Connor explains the usefulness of the device in JORN (currently undergoing a $1.2 billion Phase 6 upgrade led by BAE Systems Australia) shares some thoughts on what it takes for successful applied research by universities, and tells us why alternatives to GPS are being developed.

Episode guide

0:30 – Introduction to QuantX Labs and its focus on precision PNT products and quantum sensors.

1:16 – Establishment of company and use of its IP for defence radars. 

2:20 – Approach to commercialising science at the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS)

4:38 – What is an optical atomic clock? 

6:40 – GPS is three decades old and has created trillions of dollars in value, but it’s also incredibly vulnerable. 

8:55 – Work with BAE Systems involving the Sapphire Cryogenic Clock, QuantX’s flagship product, for the Jindalee Operational Radar Network

11:05 – Decades in the making, beginning with a PhD 25 years ago.

11:50 – 10 – 15 devices planned for manufacture over the next four to five years.

Picture: O’Connor (holding one the company’s magnetometers) and VP of Engineering Fabien Cure

Further reading




@AuManufacturing’s special editorial series Land Forces 2022 is brought to you with the support of Thales Australia and BAE Systems Australia.

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