China Launches the First Quantum Communication Satellite
Kyle Maxey posted on August 16, 2016 |
Chinese government aims for unhackable communications.
(Image courtesy of Xinhua.)

(Image courtesy of Xinhua.)

China has launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite in a bid to create an impenetrable wall around its communications.

Over the last decade, the Chinese National Space Agency has made great strides in modernizing the country’s access to space and this latest launch is further proof that the world’s largest nation has the technological capacity to build and deploy powerful communication technology.

Named Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), the satellite will be used to secure communications between Beijing and the high-crime capital of Xinhua province, Urumqi.

To achieve secure communication QUESS will use the spooky interaction known as quantum entanglement to secure each bit pinged off the satellite. The way that works is pretty mind bending.


How Quantum Entanglement Works

Quantum entanglement dictates that two or more particles can be brought together by entangling their quantum states. Once entanglement occurs, none of the particles inside that ensnared state can be distinguished from one another. The kicker is that if an outside observer wanted to verify or observe the entangled state, the very act of observation would cause the state to collapse.

In quantum communication, the fact that entangled particles collapse when observed makes them a perfect fit for an encryption key. If a would-be snoop wanted to try and crack a quantum encryption key it would be theoretically impossible to do so. Therefore, if a satellite possessed a quantum key communicator, a quantum entanglement emitter and a quantum entanglement source, and another station had the same, the two locations should be able to communicate without fear of interception.

But is this technology really ready for the prime time? Well, not just yet, but with the launch of QUESS, secure quantum communications may have taken a big step forward.

Securing Satellite Communications

According the Xinhua news agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, “In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish 'hack-proof' quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground".

Xinhua continued, "Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated… It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it."

With the growing intensity and threat of cyberwarfare ratcheting up year after year, it makes sense that China, and likely other nations, have taken steps protect their most secure communications. While China has stated that QUESS is an entirely peaceful piece of technology, there is one unequivocal fact that can be gleaned from the launch: China has become a major player in the quantum communications and space game.

For more on the importance of secure communication, find out why cybersecurity is manufacturing’s biggest risk factor.

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