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Inside Frequency Control

CMOS Clocks: Advanced Timing Capabilities for Extreme Environments

Posted by Bliley Technologies on Jul 11, 2017 6:30:00 AM

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CMOS Clocks are a key technology that enables everything from laptops and smartphones to satellites and spacecraft to function. But what exactly do these devices do, and how are they beneficial in extreme environments and demanding applications? In this article, we will give a quick overview of the benefits of CMOS clocks, and how RF engineers put them to work in some of the most challenging applications.

Regulating Timing Functions

Let’s quickly cover what exactly CMOS clocks are so that you can better understand the critical role they play in so many modern engineering applications. A CMOS clock is basically a crystal oscillator that does not include an oven or some other method of temperature compensation. CMOS clocks are basically an “OCXO”, without the oven— in other words, just an “XO”. 

CMOS clocks are tasked with regulating the timing functions within a system. Essentially, the purpose of a clock is to make sure that things happen and functions are carried out at the correct time. This technology is used in everything from simple digital wristwatches and clocks to cars, airplanes, radar systems and more.

This is a complicated topic and it will take a while for someone without a formal engineering background to grasp all the esoteric details of CMOS technology. Check out our helpful Beginner’s Guide to Understanding CMOS Clocks to explore this topic in more detail.

Attention: CMOS Clocks May Be Closer Than They Appear

To understand the role that CMOS clocks play in your everyday life, just look at the digital clock on your nightstand, on your wrist, or the dashboard of your car. They are found in the CPU of the computer, tablet, or smartphone you are using to read this article right now— regulating the internal clock and making sure that the right commands are sent to the right systems at the right time. CMOS technology has also dramatically improved the quality and power of cameras in mobile phones, as well as those used in satellites for astronomical study.


Advanced Applications

Of course, it’s not just the everyday consumer products we depend on that make use of CMOS clocks: it is also what has enabled rapid advancements in aviation and space technology over the past few decades. Today CMOS clocks continue to be used in a multitude of military and aerospace applications. These include military communication and navigation systems, radar, guided missiles and intelligent munitions (“smart bombs” as they are sometimes called in layman’s terms). CMOS clocks are also a critical technology in satellite and space communication.

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Clocks used in space applications in the public and private sectors are designed to withstand the extreme temperatures of outer space. They are also ideally suited for applications affected by high levels of G-force or vibration. Techniques like radiation hardening are used to make CMOS clocks and other parts of the system more resistant to radioactive degradation which can be a challenge in space-based applications.

In the decades to come, companies and countries alike will compete to gain and retain an edge in aerospace engineering, radar, electronic warfare, and more. Advanced timing capabilities enabled by CMOS clocks will play a major role in the rapid advancements to come in the next few years.

At Bliley Technologies, we make it our business to stay on top of trends and anticipate where the industry will be in the future. We combine this with our nearly 9 decades of radio frequency experience to continue leading the way in crystal oscillator and clock innovation and design. Look through our selection of world-class low phase noise products and find the solution that is right for your application.

See Bliley's New Space OCXO for LEO Constellations

Topics: crystal oscillators, Clocks & Crystals, RF Technology