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New programme to help protect UK services and economy from satellite failure

19/02/2020

New programme to help protect UK services and economy from satellite failure

A new programme announced today, Wednesday 19 February, will help to ensure that vital public services and the UK economy are resilient to failure of satellite systems such as GPS.

The National Timing Centre programme, led by the National Physical Laboratory, will allow the UK to become one of the first countries in the world to develop a resilient time distribution network that does not rely on satellites for a reliable time source.

This would mean that, should a satellite system failure occur, emergency services responding to call-outs, the energy grid and the telecommunications network could be protected from the massive disruption a failure would cause.

The programme is part of a £70 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) investment announced today by Science Minister Amanda Solloway to keep the UK at the forefront of quantum and related technologies.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “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 funding announced today also includes a £40 million investment in a new research programme, Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics, to use quantum technologies such as sensors to answer some of the greatest unanswered questions of our universe, such as the search for dark matter and the nature of gravity.

Just as quantum computing promises to revolutionise traditional computing, quantum technologies could radically change approaches to fundamental physics, providing insights far beyond what is possible at the top international facilities available today. The programme will be delivered by UKRI’s Science and Technologies Facilities Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Both investments are supported by UKRI through the Strategic Priorities Fund.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “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.”

The National Timing Centre, which will be led by the National Physical Laboratory, responds to the serious risk identified by the UK government should a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) failure occur. It is estimated that a failure in the UK would cost the economy £5.2 billion and significantly impact critical national infrastructure.

It will rely on a network of atomic clocks, housed at secure locations across the country, and will spur growth in an emerging UK industry that will drive economic growth and create opportunities for companies and deliver new jobs.

The centre will provide innovation opportunities for UK companies through funding projects in partnership with Innovate UK based on a successful NPL and Innovate UK partnership model.

Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), said: “At NPL we are proud to be leading the way in providing trusted and assured time and frequency. The work undertaken by the team has ensured that the National Timing Centre Programme will provide huge benefits to society, whilst underpinning secure applications in the future.” 

The Quantum Technologies for Fundamental Physics programme will be led by UKRI’s Science and Technologies Facilities Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and will demonstrate how quantum technologies can be applied to address fundamental physics questions.

These could include particle physics, astrophysics and nuclear physics, and could bring the power of this emerging new technology to bear on solving addressing questions such as the nature of dark matter and gravity.

Up to seven large projects will be funded through an initial research call, with a second smaller call planned for later in the programme to exploit opportunities from funded projects.

Notes to Editors:

For further information contact James Giles-Franklin, UKRI External Communications, on 01793 234170 and james.giles-franklin@ukri.org


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