It all began in the year 2000, when the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) asked Leonardo to “build a clock based on an innovative hydrogen technology that the company had never produced before,” recalls Marina Gioia, Program Manager and Integrated Project Team Leader of the Passive Hydrogen Maser (PHM) product line.
Marina joined Leonardo in 1992 and, today, she works in Leonardo Electronics’ Space Equipments and Robotics unit at the Nerviano site near Milan, Italy.
Leonardo's PHM is an instrument that generates an ultra-stable frequency signal because it is connected to the oscillation of an electron within an atom. As a result, it is considered the most accurate atomic clock in the world for operations in orbit, with a margin of error of one second every three million years.
As Marina explains, this is an essential tool for Galileo, the European Union’s global navigation satellite system, designed for search and rescue and transport security missions, as well as being used in the banking, energy, insurance, telecommunications, tourism and agricultural sectors. Galileo’s satellites synchronise with the PHM, thus providing more precise information on the ground; information that is then used, for example, for our cars’ or smartphones’ GPS. The data generated is used by more than two billion users worldwide.
Marina and her team are working to achieve a new milestone that sees scientific research and industry becoming increasingly connected: an innovative rubidium atomic clock called Rb POP (Rubidium Pulsed Optically Pumped), for satellite navigation. As a result, “an all-Italian clock produced entirely by Leonardo” will soon be flying on latest-generation satellites. This rubidium-based technology will allow the atomic clock to preserve its performance, while reducing its mass and volume.