Customised Miniature Timing Reference for Harsh Environment


Electronics - Sensors & Instrumentation


One of the main challenges for space exploration, navigation and communication is to have a precise and reliable timing reference. An error of even one second can cause a huge difference for satellite signal transmission and navigation as satellites are moving at extremely high velocity. With the growing popularity of nanosatellites (1 to 10kg), the demand of reliable and precise miniaturized timing reference for nanosatellites applications increases exponentially. Deployment of traditional atomic clock onboard nanosatellites is certainly not possible due to the limited space, weight and power budget.

This technology offers a space-hardened, small size, low power and highly precise version of timing reference module based on chip-scale atomic clock (CSAC) technology. The module design could be customised according to application requirements. The clocking performance of the developed timing reference module was thoroughly tested in lab and was successfully demonstrated in Low-Earth Orbit at altitude of 400km onboard the SPATIUM-I CubeSat. This technology can also be laterally applied to other harsh environment applications like mining, deep ocean application etc.

Technology owner is seeking collaboration with company that are interested in incorporating this technology into their products and/or systems for accurate and reliable timing reference.


The timing reference module outputs precise and uninterrupted 10MHz clock signal and 1 pulse per second (1 PPS) clock signal to external system even when subjected to harsh environment. Other information such as accumulated frequency counter data and module’s operation data can also be obtained through UART serial data communication.

The module was designed to fit into typical CubeSat configuration and it occupies around 0.25U of a 1U CubeSat. The small form factor of the timing reference module is very suitable to be deployed onboard small CubeSat. In order to avoid unwanted power disruption to the operation of the CSAC module during satellite orbiting especially when the satellite is in eclipse, a supercapacitor module was designed and used as back-up power supply for continuous operation.

Some key specifications of the developed timing reference module include:

  • Dimension: 86.3mm x 90mm x 21mm
  • Weight : 113 g
  • Voltage Supply: 4.5 V
  • Power Consumption: 350 mW
  • Warm Up Time: < 180 s
  • Data Interface
    • CSAC data: UART serial communication. Baud rate: 57,600 bps
    • Operation data: UART serial communication. Baud rate: 128,000 bps
  • Operating temperature: -10 to +70 oC


This technology offer is primarily targeted for space applications, specifically for nanosatellites operating in Low Earth Orbit. Reliable timing reference onboard small satellites is critical to enable commercial applications such as satellite constellation, broadcasting & communication, weather & climate monitoring and space-based internet-of-things.

Since its development in 1999, nanosatellite technologies have attracted intense attention and advanced from educational research to a great variety of applications such as earth observation, communication, navigation, meteorology, military operational support and others emerging applications. The small physical size (multiples of 10×10×10 cm3 units) and standardized cubic shape of the CubeSat reduce the design complexity, development cost, lead time and launch cost. Additionally, ongoing technology evolution, miniaturization of cost-effective COTS CubeSat components and the possibility of launching of large quantity of CubeSats with single rocket launch have inevitably created potentially new mission architectures consisting of large constellations of CubeSats. As of January 2021, more than 2,900 nanosatellites were launched in the earth’s orbit. The global nanosatellite market size is projected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.3% from 2020 to 2025.

In addition, the same technology can potentially be applied to other applications which require portable, stable and reliable timing reference such as:

  • Underground and underwater sensor systems
  • Unmanned vehicles
  • Smart power grids
  • Internet of Things (IoT) and remote sensor networks
  • Networks and telecommunication
  • GPS/GNSS-denied environments

Unique Value Proposition

The CSAC technology is a game-changing innovation for space exploration and navigation. The excellent frequency stability, small size, low weight and low power consumption made it a potential candidate as precise timing reference for nanosatellite applications. This approach can also be adopted for other clocking devices.

The clocking performance of the fabricated space-hardened CSAC timing reference module has been validated and it is a proven solution as a reliable timing reference for small satellite system. Reliable timing reference onboard small satellites is critical to enable commercial applications such as satellite constellation, broadcasting & communication, weather & climate monitoring and space-based internet-of-things.

Furthermore, the proposed CSAC timing reference module can be further enhanced with another level of advanced packaging solutions to overcome more stringent operating condition in deep-space environment such as extended radiation exposure, extreme temperature fluctuation and longer operation duration. The CSAC technology will inevitably open a new chapter of technology advancement in deep space navigation, applicable not only for satellite exploration mission to the moon but also other planets.

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