ESA to help develop secure quantum communications

Applications

23/01/2023
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Staying safe from cyberattacks that target vital services such as power supplies is increasingly important in today’s digital world. ESA is supporting European autonomy to keep people connected by working with satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space to develop highly secure technologies based on the unbreakable laws of quantum physics.

The quantum computers that are currently being developed will eventually be able to easily crack the cryptographic systems used by today’s classical computers. Keeping European information secure in the future will therefore need new cryptography based on the quantum properties of light.

However this information will need to be sent over long distances between cities and ground-based fiber-optic quantum information links are limited to a range of a couple of hundred kilometers or so. Meanwhile satellites are well-suited for long-distance quantum communications.

The TeQuantS project aims to develop quantum space-to-Earth communications technologies for cybersecurity applications and future quantum information networks.

The technologies developed will enable Thales Alenia Space and its partners to build satellites and optical ground stations by the end of 2026 that will help demonstrate the performance of long-distance quantum satellite links.

The work is supported by the French space agency (CNES) and the Austrian space agency (ALR) and is co-funded by ESA under the Core Competitiveness component of its program of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems.

Thales Alenia Space will draw on the expertise of a consortium composed of satellite manufacturer Airbus, seven smaller firms and start-up companies, and two research laboratories from across France and Austria.

Marc-Henri Serre, Thales Alenia Space Executive Vice President for Telecommunications, says: “We are delighted to be working with our partners to develop quantum technologies that will demonstrate the ability to establish operational long-distance satellite quantum communications links and support Europe’s sovereignty in this area. We thank ESA, CNES and the Austrian Space Agency for their vital support on this project, which is addressing future cybersecurity and quantum information network challenges.”

Javier Benedicto, Acting Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, says: “Supporting European autonomy, leadership and responsibility in today’s digital world is becoming increasingly important. We are proud to be working with the consortium led by Thales Alenia Space to ensure that European citizens will continue to benefit from space-based secure connectivity in everyday life on Earth.”

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