Zachary Warren, Hunter Kettering, and James Camparo, Physical Sciences Laboratories, The Aerospace Corporation

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Abstract:

More and more, precise timekeeping is becoming a crucial element of space-system operations. Not only are atomic clocks required at mission control ground stations, but they are expected to fly on spacecraft ranging in size from the “large” to CubeSats. This, of course, requires that the size, weight, and power (SWaP) of the clock cannot be sacrificed for frequency stability, and that the frequency stability of the device cannot be sacrificed for SWaP. Traditional space clocks (e.g. Rb clocks, Cs clocks, and hydrogen masers) require microwave cavities, rf-discharge lamps, alkali ovens, hydrogen dissociators, filter vapor-cells, or state-selecting magnets. In contrast, Coherent-Population-Trapping (CPT) clocks can have very low SWaP and have led to the development of the chip-scale atomic-clock (CSAC) – perfect for CubeSat missions. In the standard CPT clock, a narrow atomic resonance is formed by a bichromatic optical field. Unfortunately, in the standard CPT clock design the atomic signal suffers a low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), due to atoms becoming systemically stuck in “trap” states inaccessible to the laser light. At The Aerospace Corporation’s Physical Sciences Laboratories, we have constructed a CPT atomic clock testbed, with the goal of accelerating CSAC development for next-generation space missions. Specifically, our plan is to investigate atomic physics issues that influence CSAC performance and SWaP, and prioritizing issues not being addressed in academic or industrial laboratories. In this presentation, we will discuss our CPT testbed, and recent work investigating CPT-enhancement strategies for improved clock performance that recover atoms from trap states and improve the SNR. Additionally, we will discuss our studies of the physical processes taking place in these CPT-enhancement strategies, and how they can affect advanced-CSAC functioning and design.