Air Force

Alkaline-Earth vapor cell for enhanced optical atomic clocks

Enables size reduction and performance improvements to portable clocks necessary for satellite-based navigation and communication

Communications Photonics Electronics

U.S. Air Force scientists are advancing the capabilities of space-based communication and navigation by improving the size and accuracy of ultra-high precision atomic clocks using a alkaline element heated in a vapor cell in an ultrahigh vacuum chamber so that it can be used for timing with a pulsed laser.

The manufacturing technology is available via patent license agreement to qualified private companies who would make, use, or sell, the device.

The precise timing that atomic clocks create enables numerous applications in communications and navigation, including the Global Positioning System.

This next-gen timing source uses an optical atomic clock based on a two-photon optical transition in an alkali vapor.

Such alkaline-earth atoms include calcium and strontium, for example.

Alkaline-earth atoms are known to possess spectrally narrow electronic transitions that can be accessed with visible laser sources.

Inside the vapor cell, the alkaline materials are heated between 400-600° Celsius.

The vapor cell assembly is made of alkaline-resistant sapphire, calcium fluoride, and europium-doped calcium fluoride. The cell is suspended in the chamber by thermal isolation springs made of alumina ceramic.

The chamber is oxygen and particulate free, and evacuated to a pressure of ≤10−6 Torr.

Commercial applications include finance, communications, power grid stabilization and synchronization, network synchronization, cyber security, encryption, and signal multiplexing.

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