John Davis, Kathryn Burrows, Hannah Collingwood, Setnam Shemar, Peter Whibberley, Simon Ashford, Ali Ashkhasi, Belinda Eglin, Rob Foot, Richard Hendricks, Elizabeth Laier English, Conway Langham, Adam Parsons, Krzysztof Szymaniec, Josh Whale, Andrew Wilson, Leon Lobo and Helen Margolis, National Physical Laboratory, UK

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Abstract:

NPL is leading a programme called the National Timing Centre (NTC) to develop a robust, geographically distributed time scale infrastructure across the UK. The aims of the programme are to improve security and resilience in national time and frequency distribution, whilst supporting UK innovation and skills. Recent government studies have highlighted the dependence of services such as telecommunications, broadcasting, energy and finance on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) for time and frequency reference signals. As GNSS signals are vulnerable to disruption, the availability of accurate time and frequency signals from a robust national timing infrastructure will, in future, complement GNSS and mitigate the impact of any disruption to GNSS signals to these critical services. At present, the UK’s national time scale UTC(NPL) is maintained by NPL in Teddington, London. Time dissemination services are provided over the whole country via the millisecond-level accuracy MSF radio time signal and an NTP internet time service. The NPLTime® service provides higher accuracy to a number of users in the London area and in several European locations. The new National Timing Centre programme will significantly improve the resilience and capability of this UK time scale infrastructure. In future, a distributed UTC(NPL) time scale infrastructure will operate from several locations across the UK, including a new NPL facility in Teddington, interconnected by two or more time and frequency transfer methods. The time scale design is based on signal measurement, frequency steering and distribution from hydrogen masers with significant built-in hardware redundancy, which will be replicated at each site. At NPL, development of the new time scale facility is underway with the arrival of new hydrogen masers and construction of an additional caesium fountain. Work is also in progress to develop a suite of software to automate, monitor and control the time scale. To enable geographically widespread availability of signals from this new time scale, several distribution nodes will provide points of access across the UK. At these nodes, a range of distribution technologies including fibre, communication satellites, terrestrial broadcasts and GNSS will deliver resilient, UTC-traceable time and frequency signals to critical national infrastructure, businesses and academia. As a result, the NTC programme will not only support essential services, it will enable technological growth and innovation in industry through the development of new time and frequency products and applications. Additionally, the NTC programme will enhance the UK’s research and development capabilities in time and frequency generation and dissemination. The NTC programme will also respond to the specialist skills shortage in the field of time and frequency. An assessment of the current and future workforce requirements in this field has been carried out to create a Training & Education Blueprint. Through collaboration with industry and academia, new training opportunities will be created, suitable for learners at a range of levels.