Post-Quantum Satellite Protection: Towards Reality

October 12, 2023

Post-Quantum Satellite Protection: Progressing towards a secure reality. Explore the future of satellite cybersecurity. In a new test, researchers have successfully created a data transmission channel that can resist quantum decryption. This is vital for protecting military and commercial operational technology communications routed via satellite arrays.

QuSecure and Accenture achieved this through a live, end-to-end, classical and quantum-resilient communications satellite link. This demonstrates the capability of their QuProtect solution to upgrade legacy systems with post quantum cybersecurity.

Quantum cryptography

Quantum cryptography uses photons that are inextricably linked or “entangled” to encrypt information, making it nearly impossible for anyone to intercept the signal. The signal also cannot be reconstructed from the original data, even if it is copied. This makes quantum satellite communication the fastest way to send secrets from one place to another. It’s also the most secure. However, the technology is expensive and requires special equipment. For example, the photons must be carefully shielded from electromagnetic interference to avoid losing their entangled state, which is what allows them to transfer information at the speed of light.

While traditional encryption techniques have been hacked by unauthorized parties, quantum cryptography can protect against those attacks by using the laws of physics. The principles of quantum physics can be used to create random sequences that cannot be replicated by any hacker. These random numbers are then encrypted with the help of a key, which is shared between the two users to protect sensitive information. Quantum encryption can also be used to make sure that the data transferred is not modified in transit.

In addition to its national security benefits, quantum communications technology has significant commercial potential. It could enable more secure payments and transactions, as well as allow for faster and cheaper connections to remote locations. It could also make it possible to transmit large amounts of data over satellite networks. The technology is expected to become widely available in the next few years, with companies such as IDQuantique and Quintessence Labs offering services based on this technology.

Until now, most experiments with quantum communications have been done on the ground, but satellites offer an advantage because they can reach a larger geographic area. The problem is that noise interferes with fragile quantum states and can destroy them at distances longer than a few hundred kilometers. In order to overcome this limitation, researchers have developed a technique called quantum repeaters that can extend quantum entanglement over long distances.

Last year, China launched its first quantum satellite, dubbed Micius. Its success has encouraged other countries to develop their own quantum communication satellites, including the United States. A team from Auburn University is working to demonstrate quantum satellite-to-ground links using a 12-U CubeSat, and they hope to launch it by 2025. In addition, startups are emerging that aim to capitalize on this technology. For instance, U.K. company Arqit has announced plans to build a quantum network using satellites.

Quantum entanglement

As part of the effort to develop quantum technologies that can protect against hacking, scientists are working on entangling particles. This unique connection, dubbed “spooky action at a distance” by Albert Einstein, allows two systems to take on identical conditions independent of their location and time. This property can be used for communications between satellites or other distant objects.

In a recent experiment, researchers in China and Austria successfully entangled photons from separate locations. They then used them to send secret messages between a ground station and a satellite. This was the first time a quantum communication system has been successfully transmitted from space to Earth. The technology is expected to revolutionize secure satellite communication, and could be a powerful tool against hackers.

Quantum entanglement has become the basis for quantum encryption, a new method that can ensure that communications are secure against eavesdroppers. It uses a pair of entangled photons, one from each location, to create a secret key that can be used to encrypt a message. The key can then be decrypted using the other entangled photon from the other location. This method is highly resistant to quantum attacks, making it difficult for a hacker to intercept encrypted information.

The quantum satellite is named Micius after a Chinese philosopher who eschewed offensive warfare, and its launch marks a major step forward in the development of quantum encryption. While other nations have also attempted to build quantum communications satellites, the new Chinese craft is the most ambitious yet. It will test quantum entanglement over a long distance and could lead to a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites that would provide global quantum communications coverage.

To demonstrate quantum encryption, the team entangled photons from different locations and then sent them to a satellite in low-Earth orbit. The satellite transmitted the entangled photons to another satellite in geosynchronous orbit, which then relayed the entangled photons back to Earth. This allowed the scientists to verify that the encrypted message was not intercepted by a spy satellite.

The next stage of the project will be to send a satellite into a higher orbit. This will allow it to distribute the entangled photon pairs between multiple ground stations. This will increase the number of times each key can be used for communication, making it harder to intercept.

Quantum computing

Physicists believe that quantum computing can be used to protect against cyberattacks. Its security would be based on the principles of entanglement and cryptography, and could offer more protection against attacks than traditional methods. It also has the potential to speed up computations and reduce storage costs. The technology is attracting attention from big players in the tech and finance sectors. For example, Microsoft and Google have invested in companies working on quantum computing. Moreover, the technology is drawing interest from companies that want to use it in manufacturing and industrial design.

The latest development comes from China, whose Micius satellite was launched in 2016 and is solely dedicated to quantum communications research. Using the satellite, scientists have achieved several groundbreaking results that are bringing the once esoteric field of quantum communication into the mainstream. The research is paving the way for a global quantum communication network.

Micius’ key breakthrough was demonstrating point-to-point intercontinental quantum communication. The technique relies on sending light quanta, or photons, that are entangled with receiving stations on Earth. This allows the satellite to deliver messages thousands of kilometers away without being intercepted. It is impossible to eavesdrop on such communications because any attempt to intercept the quantum photons would alter their condition, which is instantly detected by the other receivers on Earth.

However, many hurdles remain before such a system can be put into commercial use. For one, there aren’t many research satellites flying at the moment that can be parked over ground stations to receive the quantum keys. In addition, a quantum communications system based on a satellite requires reliable optical links between the photon transmitter and the receiver. This is especially challenging in space, where atmospheric attenuators such as fog and rain can distort the optical beam and cause it to lose its precision.

Moreover, such systems must be miniaturized and built to withstand the harsh environment of space. These requirements are pushing researchers to explore nanosatellite platforms, such as the CubeSat. The standardized satellite buses allow for rapid prototyping and cost-effective missions that can serve as technological pathfinders.

Quantum satellites

Scientists are working on a quantum satellite to link up Earth-spanning networks of ultra-secure communication. These networks could be used to protect against attacks on the power grid or secure information sent over long distances, for example in remote regions without optical fibre. In the future, a quantum network could also enable fast and secure communications with supercomputers on Mars.

The first quantum satellite, Micius, was launched in 2016. Its mission is to demonstrate the viability of quantum key distribution (QKD) over a long distance, using entangled photons. The QKD process allows only those with the correct key to read the data sent from the satellite. This is the most secure form of encryption. In order to guarantee the security of a QKD signal, scientists must be able to create and transmit pairs of entangled photons over a large distance. Micius has achieved this, paving the way for more advanced experiments.

To do this, the team inserted a laser into the satellite’s crystal. The laser caused the crystal to emit a pair of photons with opposite polarization states, which were then split and transmitted to ground stations in Delingha and Lijiang. When the photons were received at the two observatories, they were found to have opposite polarizations more often than expected by chance, proving that the entanglement of the photons was preserved over a very long distance.

This was a crucial test for the Micius satellite, as the physics behind this type of entanglement-based quantum communication is complicated and sensitive. A key challenge was maintaining the synchronization of the photons, as the satellite hurtled through space at nearly 8 kilometers per second. The scientists also had to ensure that the photons weren’t blinded by other light signals.

The success of this experiment was a milestone for quantum satellite technology, but there are still many challenges ahead. The next step is to build a system that can be used for everyday applications. Scientists hope to develop a commercial quantum satellite that will allow users to communicate securely with each other. This will make it possible for companies to use quantum technology for business and security purposes.

Ammar Fakhruddin


Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.

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