World’s first timing centre protects UK from the effects of satellite failure

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THE ENERGY grid could become more resilient with the help of the world’s first National Timing Centre in the UK, Science Minister Amanda Solloway has announced.

The new centre will see a team of researchers, based at sites across the UK, work together to make public services and the economy less reliant on satellites through a network of atomic clocks – clocks that use atoms and surrounding electrons to keep track of time – housed at secure locations.

Now the government is investing £36 million to create the National Timing Centre, which will ensure the UK economy and public services will be more resilient in the case of satellite failure.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway commented the launch: “Our economy relies on satellites for accurate timing.

“Without satellites sending us timing signals, everything from the clocks and maps on our phones, to our emergency services and energy grid would be at risk.

“I’m delighted that this world-first centre will see our brightest minds, from Surrey to Strathclyde, working together to reduce the risks from satellite failure.”

The centre will provide additional resilience for the country’s reliance on accurate timing which is currently provided by satellite technologies and underpins many every day technologies including emergency response systems, 4G/5G mobile networks, communication and broadcast systems, transport and the stock exchange.

All these currently depend on precision timing from these Global Navigation Satellite Systems.

Satellite based timing from GPS and similar systems is the most common source.

If there were a large-scale GPS failure, economic impact to the UK would be £1 billion a day.

Therefore additional land-based technologies will improve the UK’s resilience and provide important back-up.

Loss of this accurate data would have severe and life-threatening effects, such as on getting ambulances to patients or getting power to homes around the country.

Alongside investment in the new Centre, the government is investing a further £40 million in a new research programme, Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics.

This will help the UK take a commanding lead in quantum technologies on the global stage, by ensuring investment keeps step with similar programmes in the US and China.

Researchers specialising in particle physics, astrophysics and nuclear physics will use quantum sensors – which can detect the very smallest particles – to help locate answers to some of the greatest scientific questions of our time, such as how gravity works.

Results may enable researchers to make important advances in quantum technologies and enable UK businesses to use the new discoveries and developments to create new products and services.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport, added: “Our emergency services, energy network and economy rely on the precise time source that global satellite navigation systems provide.

“The failure of these systems has been identified as a major risk, and The National Timing Centre programme will help to protect both vital services and the economy from the disruption this would cause while delivering considerable economic benefits.

“The Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics programme will harness the power of these powerful new technologies to address some of the deepest questions in the physical sciences, bringing together world-leading UK researchers and technologists to make further breakthroughs.”

Today’s £76 million investment furthers the government’s commitment to significantly boost R&D investment across every part of the UK, including funding transformational technologies and increasing the number of researchers.

The funding is provided through the Strategic Priorities Fund, which supports high-quality discipline research and development priorities, with investment also going towards autonomous systems and national collections.