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Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat)

The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) is pioneering new applications for quantum technologies, in particular quantum communications networks in space.

Encryption in the 21st Century

Illustration of ground stations bridged with a quantum communication satelliteThe secure distribution of cryptographic keys has always been a crucial element for the task of protecting and sharing important secrets. Today’s algorithmic key distribution makes assumptions on the computing power of a possible hacker, which leads to fundamental problems for long-term security.

Quantum key distribution (QKD) establishes highly secure keys between distant parties by using single photons to transmit each bit of the key. Since single photons behave according the laws of quantum mechanics they cannot be tapped, copied or directly measured without detection. The
huge benefit for users of such systems is the peace of mind of knowing that any attack, manipulation or copying of the photons can be immediately detected and overcome. QKD solves the long-standing problem of securely transporting cryptographic keys between distant locations. Even if they were to be transmitted across hostile territory, their integrity could be unambiguously verified upon receipt. Ground-based QKD systems are commercially available today, however, current systems can only cover distances of up to 200 km due to photon absorption in fibre optic cables. Satellite-based QKD systems offer the best approach for surpassing this distance limitation with today’s technology.

Mission Concepts for Space Quantum Science

Over the past three years, IQC has been working with industry partners
to advance a proposed microsatellite mission called QEYSSat through a series of technical studies funded initially by Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and subsequently by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). QEYSSat’s mission objectives would be to demonstrate the generation of encryption keys through the creation of quantum links between ground and space, and also to conduct fundamental science investigations of long-distance quantum entanglement. Most recently, IQC received a contract from the CSA to design and build a compact prototype quantum key distribution receiver (QKDR) suitable for a low-cost microsatellite mission like QEYSSat.

In parallel, IQC has a collaborative project with the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto to study the feasibility of performing a rapid and low cost space-based QKD demonstration mission using a nanosatellite platform. This collaborative study is being funded by  Federal Economic Development Agency for Ontario (FedDev Ontario) to develop the technologies that would be required for a future space-based QKD data service.

Space Quantum Communication Projects

The space quantum science mission concepts build upon over three years of relevant projects by IQC that have been generously supported by the CSA, DRDC, FedDev Ontario and other federal and provincial organizations including Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI), Canada Foundation for Innovation/Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation (CFI/MEDI), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) and NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program.

Project title/description Years IQC role Funding
Quantum Key Distribution Receiver (QKDR) for QEYSSat 2013-Present Lead CSA
Advancement of Satellite-Based Quantum Communications 2013-Present Lead FedDev Ontario
Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking (APT) for QEYSSat Study and Breadboarding 2012-13 Support CSA
Canadian Quantum Communication Satellite: Concepts and Components 2011-12 Lead CSA
Feasibility Study on Quantum Entanglements Experiments in Space 2010-11 Support CSA
Cryptographic Key Transfer Using a Quantum Optical Payload Study 2010 Support Ontario MRI Early Researcher Award
Satellite-Based Quantum Communication 2011-Present Lead DRDC
Facility for Operating and Testing Quantum Devices 2010-Present Lead CFI/MEDI, Canada
Foundation for
Innovation, Leaders
Opportunity Fund
Quantum Photonics Devices for Quantum Communications 2010-Present Lead NSERC Discovery
Quantum Information Program 2010-Present Lead CIFAR
Building a Workforce for the Cryptographic Infrastructure of the 21st Century 2012-Present Lead NSERC CREATE
Facility for Global and Secure Quantum Communication 2013-Present Lead CFI/MEDI, Canada
Foundation for
Innovation, Leaders
Opportunity Fund
Entangled Sources for Ground-Based QKD 2013-Present Lead NSERC Research Tools and Instruments

Industrial, Academic and Government Partners

COM DEV, INO, Neptec Technologies Corporation, Xiphos Technologies, EXCELITAS Technologies, UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology at the University of Calgary, Perimeter Institute, dotfast-consulting, Province of Ontario, Industry Canada

Educational programs

QKD - Quantum Key Distribution Summer School

USEQIP - Undergraduate School on Experimental Quantum Information Processing

QCSYS - Quantum Cryptography School for Young Students