[time-nuts] I've designed a GPSDO, but how "good" is it?

Bob Stewart bob at evoria.net
Sun Aug 16 16:57:20 EDT 2015

Hi Nick,
In fact, if no-one else has volunteered, contact me offline and I'll run a test for you on my equipment, which is an HP5370A and a Symmetricom PRS-45A Cesium standard.  

bob at evoria dot net
      From: Tom Van Baak <tvb at LeapSecond.com>
 To: Discussion of precise time and frequency measurement <time-nuts at febo.com> 
 Sent: Sunday, August 16, 2015 2:31 PM
 Subject: Re: [time-nuts] I've designed a GPSDO, but how "good" is it?
Hi Nick,

Nice project. Thanks for sharing.

I was hoping someone would someday use a cheap Sparkfun / Parallax / Adafruit GPS to make a low-cost GPSDO. Mostly what people on this list do is go to the extreme of using serious GPS timing receivers (such as Oncore M12+T, or ublox-5T or 6T or 8T) but those require significant amounts of configuration, tuning, survey, etc. to meet ultimate performance levels.

The good thing about using a cheap hobbyist-grade 3D GPS/1PPS receiver is that they work anywhere, without fiddling or survey, within seconds of power-on. Ok, you lose a few ns of precision compared to serious receivers -- but for a TCXO that doesn't matter.

Anyway, to answer your question -- to measure its true performance you only need two things. 1) a phase meter (or time interval counter) that's good to 1 ns or better, and 2) a local reference standard that's maybe 10x better than the TCXO and the Adafruit GPS. Usually that means a cesium standard, or supremely qualified GPSDO, or equivalent.

A number of us here on the time-nuts list have such equipment at home. And unlike professional labs, we will do it for free/fun if you loan the GPSDO for a week.

If you want to play with raw timing data from an Adafruit GPS board see file gps-mtk3339.txt.gz under http://www.leapsecond.com/pages/gpsdo-sim/ and then use TimeLab for phase, frequency, and Allan deviation analysis (http://www.ke5fx.com/timelab/readme.htm).


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Nick Sayer via time-nuts" <time-nuts at febo.com>
To: <time-nuts at febo.com>
Sent: Sunday, August 16, 2015 11:47 AM
Subject: [time-nuts] I've designed a GPSDO, but how "good" is it?

I’ve designed and make and sell a GPSDO on Tindie (https://hackaday.io/project/6872-gps-disciplined-tcxo). It’s brand new - I’ve sold a handful of them so far. So as to make this post not *entirely* self-serving, what I would like is some further guidance on how I can better characterize its performance.

The GPS reference is a 1 pps signal (It’s the Adafruit Ultimate GPS module - a PA6H). The manufacturer claims an accuracy of ±10 ns, but that's accuracy relative to the true start of the GPS second. They don’t make any claim for stability.

The oscillator itself (Connor Winfield DOT050V 10 MHz) has a short-term (though they don’t say how short that term is) stability of 1 ppb. The absolute accuracy of it is (I assume) irrelevant, because it’s a VCTCXO and the control voltage is steered by GPS feedback.

The feedback loop takes samples over a 100 second period. That gives me an error sample with a granularity of 1 ppb. I keep a rolling sample window of 10 samples to get an error count over 1000 seconds. I've kept track of both of these values for extended periods (days) as well as logging the DAC value (the number that's proportional to the control voltage). The 1000 second sample window error averages zero, and it almost never exceeds ±7 (every once in a while if I physically move it, it will show a momentary error glitch, but that shows up in the short term feedback sampling too). The 100 second samples are almost all 0 or ±1, with an occasional ±2 showing up. As I said before, if I bonk the oscillator, it may briefly show a ±6 or so for one sample.

If I pit two of them against each other on a scope and take a time lapse video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HkeCI90i44), you can see that they stay mostly locked with occasional periods of drift. I sort of assume that that represents periods where the two GPS receivers disagree as they decide differently how to select among the available satellites.

I've been saying out loud that the oscillator is ±1 ppb from GPS over the 1000 second window. I know of Allan variance, but I don't have anything else handy I can use for comparison. I also can't really afford to send one off for testing to a proper lab. In looking at http://tf.nist.gov/general/pdf/2297.pdf, it suggests that my results are relatively poor compared to what a GPSDO can achieve (more like 10^-12 rather than 10^-9), but I assume that they’re able to use a higher frequency GPS reference than just 1 PPS (and they’re a lot pricier).

What else can I do to try and characterize the performance? If mine is performing far more poorly than the same price ($175) can buy elsewhere, then what am I doing wrong?

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