EMPIR project supplies time and frequency dissemination for aerospace industry

International clocks inside of an airport

An EMPIR project has extended the size of its time and frequency dissemination test-beds to supply two prominent aerospace companies

Completed EMPIR project Precision Time for Industry (17IND14, WRITE) has established methods and devices for precisely matching time and frequency across a diverse array of sites and networks.

Accurate timekeeping and synchronisation are of vital importance across numerous industries and applications, from new 5G networks to finance to satellite monitoring. Mismatches in time between machines can cause errors in accuracy and performance or, in critical applications, total system failure.

One of the highest performing systems for disseminating Universal Coordinated Time (UCT) is the White Rabbit Precision Time Protocol (PTP-WR), originally developed by CERN for use in data acquisition at its accelerator sites. PTP-WR utilises fibre optics and so avoids many of the weaknesses of the widely-used Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), which relies on radio signals and satellite time broadcasting, making it vulnerable to spoofing and hacking.

Although PTP-WR is well-suited to the dissemination of UTC, previous calibration techniques were only developed for specific, dedicated fibre links and were not scalable for use on different networks, an issue now addressed by the work of the WRITE project.

Extended test-bed

Four test-beds, located in Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Sweden, have been developed by the project. These test-beds are being used to demonstrate the ability of PTP-WR to deliver UTC time and frequency from National Metrology Institutes to industrial users and to evaluate the associated uncertainties. In Italy, the original 230 km test-bed was developed by INRIM and LEONARDO and was used by LEONARDO to evaluate the performance of their local commercial clocks. After this success, the test-bed has now been extended to 1000 km to include two aerospace companies: Thales Alenia Space Italia and Telespazio. Telespazio, based in Fucino, in central Italy, runs the ground segment of the Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System and so, in future, there is scope for the technologies and methods developed by the WRITE project to be used as part of the Galileo project. This extension has also a real-world demonstration of the scalability of the techniques developed by the project.

New hardware made available

Hardware concepts developed during the WRITE project are being made commercially available. In particular, an industrial low-jitter switch, used to disseminate time and frequency, has been developed by CERN, based on the project’s developments, and is being distributed by a project partner. This hardware will help to expand the use of PTP-WR, allowing for more robust dissemination of time and frequency for industry, as well as many other applications.

Project coordinator, Davide Calonico (INRIM), has said about the project:

“In very difficult times, WRITE obtained relevant achievements. Time dissemination through optical fibres and the PTP-WR protocol has been improved, with respect to calibrations, devices, performances, scalability. The Consortium managed to realize different testbeds in different countries, involving Metrological Institutes, academia, and industries. This was really a success in knowledge transfer and effective metrology has been produced, also thanks to a really resilient team.”

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States

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