China Launches Quantum Science Satellite to Test Secure Communications

china_flagOn Monday, China launched the experimental Quantum Science Satellite designed to demonstrate quantum communications, which could lead to secure communications that cannot be hacked.

Kicking off a two-year mission, the Micius satellite will test out quantum communications over greater distances than ever tried on the ground. It will help establish an encrypted connection between ground stations in China and Austria with the help of scientists in both countries.

“We have been doing things like quantum cryptography and quantum teleportation, and other things, in the lab beginning in the mid-1990s, and we have extended this outside the lab, with experiments between two islands of the Canary Islands with distances of 100 miles or so,” said Anton Zeilinger, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Vienna. “Now, the next logical step is the satellite.”

The concept calls for an instrument aboard the newly-launched satellite to generate a pair of photons, tiny sub-atomic particles of light. Then a high-power telescope on satellite will beam one half of the pair to ground stations in China and Europe.

The photons will be in a quantum state, meaning their properties depend on the other. Quantum entanglement has never been proven over such great distances before.

Scientists on the ground will use the photons to create a secret key, allowing messages to be exchanged between Europe and China via conventional networks like the Internet. The key is needed to break the encrypted code.

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  • JamesG

    Quantum entanglement has never been proven at any distance (which theoretically could be at any range 1 plank distance or across the Universe). Its only been probablitically “proven” that sometimes spins align at a certain percentage of the time. About as practical as trying to listen to a song on the radio while spinning the tuning dial constantly.

    IF they can prove it and make it practical. There is A LOT of application for it besides using it as a cypher key. And if the Chinese develop it first. We are toast.

  • duheagle

    The quantum entanglement distance record appears to be 300 km., set about a year ago. That was using optical fiber as the transmission medium. The Chinese seem to plan on using lasers and their satellite to beat this.

  • Aerospike

    It’s not the Chinese that are developing this. The “pioneers” of this field are the group around Anton Zeilinger in Austria. Their results (including the current distance record) have all been published. It is not some secret Chinese program.

    The fact that this experiment is done in collaboration with China implies that a) the US and Europe (ESA) have not been interested and/or b) that China was willing to allocate more funding to realize this mission.

  • JamesG

    We understand that its most likely just an artifact of quantum mechanics (math error). And that distance between pairs doesn’t mean anything. That is why there aren’t experiments like that here.

    The Chinese (government) is developing this. They are launching a sat for it which shows how much emphasis (or money they are willing to spend) on it. And we have no idea what they are doing behind the joint venture.

  • windbourne

    yup. nice powerful lasers in orbit.
    Hmmmm.

  • duheagle

    Not sure if the lasers are on the satellite or on the ground. Anyway, the idea is to send signals, not cut metal.