SpooQy-1 Miniature Satellite Studies Quantum Physics in Orbit
Matthew Greenwood posted on July 27, 2020 |
CubeSat demonstrates quantum entanglement—opening the door to a quantum Internet.

A miniature satellite smaller than a shoebox is conducting experiments that could someday pave the way to a superfast, super-secure quantum Internet.

The SpooQy-1 satellite has successfully demonstrated quantum entanglement in orbit. It’s a phenomenon where a pair of particles form an unbreakable link—no matter the distance between them—so that altering one particle instantly affects the other. Quantum entanglement forms the basis of a variety of quantum communications applications.

Using a blue laser diode and nonlinear crystals, SpooQy-1 produced pairs of entangled photons in two barium borate crystals.

It did so on a device less than eight inches by four inches, weighing a mere five pounds. The device was designed to operate with as little power as possible—an important feature if satellite-based Internet is to be viable. That vision would rely on an extensive network of satellites distributing entangled photon pairs to ground-based receivers. The lighter and smaller the satellite, the lower the cost to put it in orbit. The technology is also small and light enough to be fitted onto larger spacecraft.

“In the future, our system could be part of a global quantum network transmitting quantum signals to receivers on Earth or on other spacecraft,” said Aitor Villar, a physicist at the National University of Singapore and lead author of the study published in Optica. “These signals could be used to implement any type of quantum communications application, from quantum key distribution for extremely secure data transmission to quantum teleportation, where information is transferred by replicating the state of a quantum system from a distance.”

SpooQy-1 studies quantum physics in orbit.

While quantum communication has yet to be developed, the team hopes to work on a quantum receiver in the coming years that could communicate with a satellite like SpooQy-1—which could enable actual transmission of data at a quantum level. The CubeSat has already demonstrated that its sensitive quantum-entangling technology can withstand the stresses of a launch into orbit, and that it can operate in the unforgiving environment of space.

“Progress toward a space-based global quantum network is happening at a fast pace,” said Villar. “We hope that our work inspires the next wave of space-based quantum technology missions.”

If the technology proves viable, it could bring quantum Internet significantly closer to reality—radically changing the way we communicate and share data.

Read more about cutting-edge CubeSat technologies at Dawn Aerospace is Creating a Green Smallsat Future.

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