[time-nuts] Do we need something like this ?

Ulrich Bangert df6jb at ulrich-bangert.de
Sun Jun 12 08:47:04 EDT 2005

Hi Folks,

I am absolutely new to time nuts, but having studied the last month's
topics i feel i finally found a place to discuss some of my ideas
concerning frequency standards for use in amateur radio & elsewhere.

To be concise: It is more than just ideas. Almost everything that i
thought it has to be done has been realized in a breadboarded running
prototype. I am currently at a point where everything needs to be
ordered and a (multilayer) pcb has to be designed. Before i do, i would
like to present the basic ideas and features of the design to you and
leave it to your jugdement. I urgently need some feedback on it by some
qualified guys and i believe to have found them. For reasons that become
clearer in a few seconds, i call the device AOS, like A(rbitrary)
O(scillator) S(ynchronizer). So, do we need something like this: 

The design basically consists of 4 building blocks.

1) A Motorola M12+ GPS receiver. No need to talk about this one. The
only perhaps extraordinary is the fact that the receiver's sawtooth
correction value is used in the regulation loop which effectivley lowers
the receiver's pps's allan deviation to some 2E-9 @ 1 s. This allows to
use integrating time constants a order of magnitude smaller than without
using the sawtooth correction. This in turn makes even some not so good
suited oscillators candidates for use in the standard. Note: The double
oven 10811 in the Z3801 is NOT because HP tried to make everything as
perfect as possible! It is a NECESSARY prerequisite for the operation of
the Z3801. With the ancient receiver technology used these days in
conjunction with gps's SA the receiver would easily have a Allan
deviaton of 100E-9 @ 1 s. That noisy signal needs 50 times longer
integration time constants compared to the M12+ to give the same
accuracy, resulting in the need for much better LO specifications than a
single oven 10811 could give. So a double oven design became necessary.
>From a today point of view the Z3801 is by far not as good as a lot of
people think. As my design shows, current amateur designs can achieve
superior results.

2) A Analog Devices AD9852 DDS. Basically i do not steer the LO by
analogue electronis but use it to clock a DDS. This has (so it seems to
me) the following advantages: 

A) You need no voltage controlled oscillator, instead any stable source
of frequency will do. The LO is not part of the project. Thanks to the
DDS the user of this device supplies whatever he feels is a adequate
source of short time stability, may be quarz, may be rubidium, may be
cesium just whatever you like even if you thought it was not steerable
at all.

B) The DDS features a built in clock multiplier, so you can get out 10
MHz on a 10 MHz clock input signal with only a slight increase in phase
noise. In fact, due to the clock multiplier and the DDS principle the
clock signal does not NEED to be 10 MHz but may be anything between 1
and 20 MHz will do for a 10 MHz output. Do not hesitate to buy a good
oscillator having a absolutely odd frequency, it will be perfect for use
in this design. Using a all digital DDS removes a lot of the problems
building a frequency standard that relate to the need for high precision
low noise analogue electronics which would otherwise be necessary. With
analogue electronics the thermo-voltages of simple solder joints can get
a serious design issue.

C) The AD9852 is one of the few DDSs giving 48 bit frequency resolution.
You may easily calculate that this results in frequency steps of some
4E-14 relative to the desired output frequency. I thought that was fine
enough. Agreed? Surely it is better than anything i have seen realized
with analogue parts.

3) A Altera gate array of the 10K class holds almost all of the logic.
Beneath controlling a rotation shaft encoder and a 2X40 lcd display the
main logic necessary is of course the TIC and the 1E7 divider chain to
generate a pps out of the locally generated 10 MHz. The TIC realized
here has a resolution of app. 110 ps and uses a delay element scheme.
The delay in a single element is temperature and supply voltage
dependand. For that reason the delay chain calibrates itself against the
gps signal on a regular basis. I studied Shera's design very intensive
and one of the really big design clues is also one of the big design
flaws: By limiting the delay between gps pps and a locally derived
signal to the millisecond range it is indeed possible to use a low class
timebase like the ordinary canned oscillator that Brooke uses without
any limitation on accuracy of the measurement. (This topic has already
been discussed elsewhere in the group) However, with a phase measurement
range in the millisecond region, the LO has to be extreme close to the
desired frequency to make the pll lock and results in the oscillator
setup procedure that is necessary with this design. With pps signals a
delay of 0.5 s gives the maximum phase tolerance in both directions
early / late and that is why my dpll's 'center phase' is 0.5 s. With
discrete devices a 10 MHz binary counter chain for 0.5 s would be
unpractical long in terms of number of devices used, but no problem
inside a fpga. For that reason the LO may be far off initially in my
design because the phase measurement range is 0 to 1 s. 

4) A Beck SC12 microcontroller. Most possibly you have not heard about
it because it is a German product. Google for "Beck" and "SC12" to learn
more about it. Imagine a part with a DIL-32 footprint that contains a 20
MHz clocked 80186, a lot of flash memory, a interrupt controller, 2
UARTs, a network controller with a ethernet interface and some other
goodies. The part comes with a DOS like real time operating system and
Borland C or Borland Pascal 7 is used to write programs for it. As if
this alone were not astonishing enough, the part comes with a built in
web server (!) a built in FTP server (!) and a built in Telnet server
(!), you name it. Due to the multitasking environment all this stuff
runs concurrent and parallel to your own application. The gate array
works as a memory mapped i/o device on the controller's bus. The
application software is a 80 K byte Pascal program. Regulation is done
by means of a digital pll. The pll's natural time constant can be set
from seconds to days and a pre-filter for the samples having 1/6 the
time constant of the pll's natural time constant can be switched on/off.
If that reminds you to something you remember about the Stanford
Research PRS10 loop: Not by chance! All (and i mean really all)
parameters of the regulation are stored in a non-volatile ram on a
second-by-second base. I case of power loss these values are loaded back
at restart, so chances are, you still have a "lock condition" after
restart if only the LO has a UPS. Regulation can even be switched off,
giving you a open-loop system that is ideal to characterize the LO and
to determine the integration time constant that is ideal for this
specific LO and gps receiver combination. 

All information from the gps receiver (of course in a decoded form..) is
available at the display, that includes the information about the status
of all used receiver channels as well as the status of all currently
received sats. All current values of the regulation process are
available at the display. All relevant parameters can by changed by
means of a rotation shaft encoder and are stored non-volatile. The
receiver may be completely reset or a 'site survey' may be initiated.
The device works as a NTP time server in networks and can send UDP
packets containing all relevant process information to a pc in the same
network segment or send broadcast to all members of the segment. A pc
software for the realtime display of this data as well as longtime
storage for later analysis exists. Output is of course Stable32
compatible. Note, that generating 48 bit control word for the DDS
involves using arithmetic BETTER than 48 bit resolution. The software
uses Borland's 64 bit 'Extended' data type for all calculations.

The M12's serial output as well as the pps is routed to a standard RS232
port so that the device may serve as the hardware for CNS's well known
TAC32 software. To drive things to the top, the device can mimic the
serial output of a Agilent 53131 counter in TIC mode on a second serial
port. That includes the second by second messages as well as the 100 s
averaged TIA messages. That saves you thousand's of dollars for a real
53131 in case you want to use the TAC32+ with the additional TIC module
in conjunction with this device.

In a locked condition the DDS's frequency control word is a direct and
error free measure of how far the LO is currently off. This being due to
the fact that in a locked condition this control word is exactly what is
needed to compensate for the LO's offset. That makes the control word a
extreme good measure for oscillator characterizing.

Due to the internal phase comparison i can tell the device's Allan
deviation for all observation times where the gps receiver's phase noise
is the dominant factor. Due to a lack of measurememt equipment (this is
a second project of mine) i currently can not tell exactly how far the
LO's phase noise is deteriored by the DDS for observation times up to 1
h or so.  

Any comment from you on this project is highly appreciated, no matter it
is critics or suggestion for improvements. If you feel, a lot has
already been done, let me inform you that i am working on this project
since some 3 years now.

Thanks in advance for your comment. English is not my natural language,
so sorry for typos and other errors.

Ulrich Bangert, DF6JB

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