Increasingly stringent demands on atomic timekeeping, driven by applications such as global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), communications, and very-long baseline interferometry (VBLI) radio astronomy, have motivated the development of improved time and frequency standards. There are many scientific applications of such devices in space.
With GRACE (launched 2002) and GOCE (launched 2009) two very successful missions to measure earth’s gravity field have been in orbit, both leading to a large number of publications. For a potential Next Generation Gravity Mission (NGGM) from ESA a satellite-to-satellite tracking (SST) scheme, similar to GRACE is under discussion, with a laser ranging interferometer instead of a Ka-Band link to enable much lower measurement noise. Of key importance for such a laser interferometer is a single frequency laser source with a linewidth <10 kHz and extremely low frequency noise down to 40 Hz / √Hz in the measurement frequency band of 0.1 mHz to 1 Hz, which is about one order of magnitude more demanding than LISA. On GRACE FO a laser ranging interferometer (LRI) will fly as a demonstrator. The LRI is a joint development between USA (JPL,NASA) and Germany(GFZ,DLR). In this collaboration the JPL contributions are the instrument electronics, the reference cavity and the single frequency laser, while STI as the German industry prime is responsible for the optical bench and the retroreflector. In preparation of NGGM an all European instrument development is the goal.
ESA’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission and the American-German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission map the Earth’s gravity field and deliver valuable data for climate research.
The UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology is one of four flagship initiatives in the UK National of Quantum Technology Program. As part of a 20-year vision it translates laboratory demonstrations to deployable practical devices, with game-changing miniaturized components and prototypes that transform the state-of-the-art for quantum sensors and metrology. It brings together experts from the Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde and Sussex, NPL and currently links to over 15 leading international academic institutions and over 70 companies to build the supply chains and routes to market needed to bring 10–1000x improvements in sensing applications. It seeks, and is open to, additional partners for new application development and creates a point of easy open access to the facilities and supply chains that it stimulates or nurtures.
The ESA mission “Space Optical Clock” project aims at operating an optical lattice clock on the ISS in approximately 2023. The scientific goals of the mission are to perform tests of fundamental physics, to enable space-assisted relativistic geodesy and to intercompare optical clocks on the ground using microwave and optical links. The performance goal of the space clock is less than 1 × 10-17 uncertainty and 1 × 10-15 τ-1/2 instability. Within an EU-FP7-funded project, a strontium optical lattice clock demonstrator has been developed. Goal performances are instability below 1 × 10-15 τ-1/2 and fractional inaccuracy 5 × 10-17. For the design of the clock, techniques and approaches suitable for later space application are used, such as modular design, diode lasers, low power consumption subunits, and compact dimensions. The Sr clock apparatus is fully operational, and the clock transition in 88Sr was observed with linewidth as small as 9 Hz.
In scope of the ESA funded “High stability Laser” activity, a single-mode and single-frequency fiber power amplifier with 500 mW output power at 1064 nm wavelength has been developed. It is part of an elegant breadboard (EBB) which consists additionally of an ultra-stable Fabry-Perot reference for frequency stabilization. The monolithic fiber amplifier is seeded by a non-planar ring oscillator (NPRO) with a linewidth below 10 kHz. The amplifier is stabilized in power via pump diode modulation and achieves a RIN performance of < 0.01/sqrt(Hz) in the range from 10-3 Hz to 10 Hz and a polarization extinction ratio of >30 dB.
An optical frequency standard, based on the 674 nm 2S1/2-2D5/2 'clock' transition in a laser cooled trapped strontium ion is currently being evaluated at the UK National Physical Laboratory. The probe laser is a narrowed AlGaInP diode laser locked to a highly-stable and ultra-low- expansion high-finesse cavity. Laser linewidths of less than 200 Hz have been observed, measured by scanning over a single Zeeman component at 674 nm. The development of this laser is described, together with factors currently limiting the observed linewidth. Three 88Sr+ traps are now in operation, and the probe laser source can be simultaneously locked to the center of the 2S1/2 - 2D5/2 Zeeman multiplet in any two of the three traps, allowing a comparison between them. Recent results on this comparison are presented.
Forbidden transitions in single trapped ion systems are being considered as references for future optical frequency standards. These standards are expected to have application as highly stable and reproducible optical clocks, realizations of the metre and as optical frequency standards in their own right. This paper prescribes the work carried out at the National Physical Laboratory over recent years to use a highly forbidden 2S1/2 - 2F7/2 467 nm electric octupole transition in a single ion of 171Yb+ as a frequency reference. A review of the previous measurements needed to the locate octupole transition in this 171-isotope is given and a more detailed discussion of recent work is presented. This includes spectroscopy of the octupole transition with kilohertz resolution and a direct measurement of its optical frequency. Measurements of the dynamic Stark and the quadratic Zeeman shifts on the octupole frequency are also discussed.
The development of an all-solid-state systems of lasers is described for the cooling and probing of strontium ions in a radio-frequency (rf) trap. The Sr+ ions created within the rf trap are laser cooled by repeated cycling on the 422 nm 2S1/2 - 2P1/2 resonance transition. The 422 nm light was generated from a single mode 70 mW 844 nm diode laser, whose output was frequency doubled to 422 nm in a KNbO3 crystal inside a resonant enhancement cavity. Decays from the Sr+ upper resonance level into the 2D3/2 metastable state remove ions from the cooling cycle. This loss was prevented by driving the 1092 nm 2D3/2 - 2P1/2 transition using a Nd3+-doped fiber laser, diode-pumped at 826 nm. The 2S1/2 - 2D5/2 optical 'clock' transition at 674 nm has a natural linewidth of 0.4 Hz and may be probed with an AlGaInP laser diode. The laser diodes at 844 nm and 674 nm are both collimated using a piezo-mounted GRIN rod which also provides longitudinal mode selection. The spectral output is optically narrowed using resonant optical feedback.
The development is reported of GaAlAs absolute laser frequency standards, optically narrowed to 12 and 1 in 1010 respectively have been achieved. The absolute frequencies of these laser diodes when stabilized to certain Rb hyperfine components have been measured by interferometric wavelength comparison against the iodine- stabilized 633 nm HeNe laser to a 1 (sigma) uncertainty of 1.5 X 10-10. Currently, these Rb-stabilized diode laser standards have important application in the determination of the absolute frequencies of 1.5 micrometers diode lasers for optical communications, by means of heterodyne comparison against frequency-doubled 1.56 micrometers diode radiation. Additionally we have developed a 780 nm diode swept-frequency heterodyne facility whereby the swept diode can be tracked over several GHz under close control relative to a Rb-stabilized fixed-frequency reference laser. This tracking technique has application in the monitoring of the frequency drift of Fabry Perot reference etalons of the type used in wavelength division multiplexing and diode stabilization. In particular the frequency or length drift of ultra-low-expansion etalons in evacuated enclosures can be monitored to high accuracy. A length resolution of 1 pm on 10 s timescales is possible using this method.