New methods of distributing quantum encryption keys from space

A novel mission using quantum technology to encrypt messages from space is to be tested on a satellite as part of a new programme.

The Universities of Bristol, Waterloo, and Strathclyde as well as aerospace company, Craft Prospect, are collaborating to test new methods of distributing quantum encryption keys from space.

The mission – RefQ – is planning to develop a space-based photonics source of quantum signals. This source will then be integrated into the satellite scheduled for launch as part of Canada’s QYESSat (Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite) mission.

The scheme is one of the eight winners of the UK-Canada Quantum Technologies Competition, which is co-operatively organised by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The project winners are set to share grants worth £2m from UKRI and C$4.4m in investments from Canada.

Professor John Rarity, of the University of Bristol’s Quantum Information Institute, commented: “The quantum key distribution technology developed in this project represents a major step towards realising space-to-ground secure key distribution, a truly transformative technology. The source we develop with our project partners, Craft Prospect and the University of Strathclyde, will fly on board the QEYSSat Satellite extending the scope of the mission to demonstrate links to ground stations on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The quantum satellite mission is to receive up to £300,000 from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, and up to $400,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The competition is part of an initiative to unite industry, government, and academic institutions in order to speed up the advancement of quantum technologies.

The UK technology in ReFQ derives from work instigated by the Quantum Research CubeSat (QUARC) project conducted by the University of Strathclyde and additionally developed by the ROKS mission – which is due for launch in 2022 – co-ordinated by Craft Prospect alongside Strathclyde and Bristol Universities. QUARC and ROKS are being aided by the UK Space Agency under the National Space Technology Programme, Innovate UK, and the Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Communications.


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