Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat)

Padlocks are circling the earth from outer space, connecting by satellite pathways. The letters QEYSSAT are in the bottom right hand corner, representing the Quantum Encryption Science Satellite mission.

Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) researcher Thomas Jennewein is pioneering new applications for quantum technologies, in particular quantum communications networks in space. Jennewein is the Science Team Lead of the Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) mission.

What is the QEYSSat Mission?

Quantum Key Distribution Payload appears on the right, and the Optical Communication Payload is on the left. Citation: A. Scott, T. Jennewein, J. Cain, I. D'Souza, B. Higgins, D. Hudson, H. Podmore, W. Soh, "The QEYSSAT mission: on-orbit demonstration of secure optical communications network technologies," Proc. SPIE 11532, Environmental Effects on Light Propagation and Adaptive Systems III, 115320H (2020).

What is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD)?

  • Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is the generation of encryption keys between two users (typically called ‘Alice’ and ‘Bob’) whose security is based on the principles of quantum physics, such that information cannot be copied or manipulated without being noticed.
  • If an eavesdropper tries to hack the quantum channel, it will disturb the photons, revealing the attack.

Why do we need QKD?

  • Future advances in quantum computing could make current public-key encryption methods vulnerable. The security of QKD is not based on the difficulty of solving mathematical problems, but instead based on physical processes. An encryption key generated from QKD that is secure today will remain secure against advances in computing power (i.e. key has “Forward Security”).
  • A quantum network will enable long-term data security, thus ensuring Canada’s sovereignty over the privacy of Canadians' public, private, and commercial data.

Why use satellites?

  • While quantum information can be sent over a few hundred kilometers using direct optical fiber links, larger distances require other approaches. Signal transmission in fiber decreases exponentially, and conventional amplification to compensate for the lost signal does not work for quantum information.  Ground-based quantum repeaters are being developed, but are unlikely to enable Canada-wide links for the foreseeable future.
  • Satellites with quantum technologies onboard are critical components for a Canada-wide Quantum Network, and for building a global Quantum Internet.

Space quantum communication projects

QKD airborne demonstration - a plane sits in the hanger in Smith Falls, Ottawa with a team of researchers standing by.The space quantum science mission concepts build upon a series 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.

In the fall of 2016 the team, supported by the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Flight Research Laboratory, successfully demonstrated quantum key distribution (QKD) between a transmitter on the ground and a receiver payload onboard an NRC Twin Otter Airborne Research Aircraft in the Smiths Falls, Ottawa area.

The QEYSSat mission was green-lit in 2017 when the Canadian government announced federal funding for quantum technologies in space. The IQC team has been working with partners in industry and academia to advance the QEYSSat microsatellite mission through a series of technical studies funded initially by Defense Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and subsequently by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In 2017, the CSA named Thomas Jennewein as the QEYSSat Science Team Lead and awarded a science support contract for the QEYSSat mission. Honeywell Aerospace/COM DEV was selected to design and implement Phases B-E of the mission. Read more in Airborne demonstration of a quantum key distribution receiver payload.

Download the QEYSSat Overview.

Thomas Jennewein and his team preparing to test their Quantum Key Distribution Receiver

Principal Investigator Professor Thomas Jennewein with the Quantum Photonics Laboratory (QPL) team working on the Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) transmitter telescope in dome for the "Free-space QKD to a moving receiver demonstration" in 2014.