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CHIPS Articles: Naval Oceanography Partners with University of Alabama for Precise Timing Educational Program

Naval Oceanography Partners with University of Alabama for Precise Timing Educational Program
By Jenni Ervin, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command Public Affairs - February 13, 2018
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) — The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command and the University of Alabama signed an educational partnership agreement to create and maintain a Joint Precise Timing Applied Science Program (JPTASP) at the university's campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., under operational control of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, will execute the agreement and provide precise timing guidance and assistance to the program, believed to be the first in the nation. The Naval Observatory operates an ensemble of approximately 100 atomic clocks to provide the official source of time for the U.S. Department of Defense and a standard of time for the entire United States.

"We expect graduates of this program will provide our nation with a solid foundation of expertise in precise time," said Rear Adm. John Okon, commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. "Because the unique discipline of precise time is practiced in only a few specialized locations, we must ensure the technology and knowledge base continue to grow for tomorrow's workforce and ultimately for the security of the nation."

Modern electronic systems, such as electronic navigation or communications systems, have a critical dependence on precise time. The most visible example is the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). This system is based on the travel time of electromagnetic signals generated by atomic clocks on board each satellite: an accuracy of 10 nanoseconds (10 one-billionths of a second) corresponds to a position accuracy of 10 feet. The Naval Observatory is responsible for the calibration and rate-tracking of the satellite-based clock systems. In fast communications, especially across large-scale digital networks, time synchronization is equally important. All of these critical systems within the Department of Defense and many in the private sector are referenced to the Naval Observatory Master Clock.

The agreement provides University of Alabama JPTASP students with access to the unique facilities and immense timing capability of the Observatory.

Dr. Paul Koppang, clock operations division head at the Naval Observatory and a driving force behind the agreement, explained that the degree program would provide a talent pool ready to practice the unique discipline, which previously has taken engineering, math and science graduates several years to learn after being hired by the Observatory.

Additionally, the university will provide future Observatory staff with the opportunity to take formal education courses to further their careers in precise timing.

The Naval Observatory enters this Agreement under the authority of U.S. Code Title 10 Section 2194. For more information on the Naval Observatory's time and related earth orientation and astrometry mission visit

The Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command directs and oversees the collection, processing and exploitation of oceanographic, meteorological, hydrographic, precise time and astrometric information. This environmental information allows Naval and Joint forces to operate more safely and effectively, and make better decisions faster than the adversary. Part of the Information Warfare community, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command is the Navy's physical battlespace authority.

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