Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat)

qeyssat logo


                                                                                   QEYSSat logo © Canadian Space Agency, 2021


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.


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.





Launched in 2010 with the feasibility study on quantum entanglement experiments in space, the QEYSSat mission is supported through the projects and funding listed in bold below. These projects relate to the study of free-space quantum communication, in view of developing tools for a global Quantum Internet.

Current Grants/Funding 

Project Years Funding

QEYSSat Science Team Support Contract
QEYSSat mission, Government of Canada

2017-present Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

NSERC UK-Canada Alliance Grant Reference-Frame Independent Quantum Communication for Satellite-Based Networks (ReFQ)
Testing quantum-secure communication in space
Recipients of the Canada-UK Call for Proposals on Quantum Technologies

2020-2023 NSERC Alliance
QEYSSat 2.0 Project 2021-2022 NRC
Quantum Photonics Devices for a Quantum Internet 2020-2023 NSERC Department of National Defence (DND) Supplement grant
Quantum Photonics Devices for a Quantum Internet 2020-2025 NSERC Discovery

Facility for building, testing, and operating quantum satellites

2017-2021 Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Ontario Research Fund (ORF)
Deep Space Quantum Payload Radiation Impact Assessment for GEO and Deep Space Environments 2020-2022 CSA-FAST

Past Grants/Funding

Project Years Funding
Quantum Photonics Devices for Quantum Communications 2015-2020 NSERC Discovery
Building a Workforce for the Cryptographic Infrastructure of the 21st Century 2012-2020 NSERC CREATE
Quantum Information Program 2010-2019 CIFAR
Quantum-Signal Receiver enhanced by a Single-Photon Detector Array 2018-2019 DRDC

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) Demonstration​​​​​​​
Taking quantum key distribution out of the lab (video)

2018 Excelitas
Technologies for quantum communication satellites 2016-2019 CSA

QEYSSat Detector assembly + QKD Payload Elegant Breadboard (EBB)
IQC researcher awarded CSA contract to advance crucial technology for future quantum space mission

2016-2018 CSA-STDP
Towards quantum sensing with photons 2016-2017 NRC/DRDC

Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking (APT) System for QKD Payload
IQC completes project that points way to future quantum space mission

2014-2016 CSA-STDP
Facility for Global and Secure Quantum Communication 2013-2018 CFI & ORF/MEDI

Airborne QKD demonstration
Space-based quantum-secured communication prototype demonstration (video)

2013-2017 CSA

Quantum Key Distribution Receiver (QKDR) for QEYSSat
IQC advances quantum satellite mission

2013-2015 CSA
Entangled Sources for Ground-Based QKD 2013-2015 NSERC Research Tools and Instruments
QEYSSat Microsatellite Feasibility Study 2013-2015 CSA (Prime Contractor COMDEV)
Advancement of Satellite-Based Quantum Communications 2013-2014 FedDev Ontario
Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking (APT) for QEYSSat Study and Breadboarding 2012-2013 CSA (Prime Contractor COMDEV)
Satellite-Based Quantum Communication 2011-2015 Ontario MRI Early Researcher Award 2010
Canadian Quantum Communication Satellite: Concepts and Components 2011-2012 CSA
Facility for Operating and Testing Quantum Devices 2010-2015 CFI & ORF
Quantum Photonics Devices for Quantum Communications 2010-2015 NSERC Discovery
Feasibility Study on Quantum Entanglements Experiments in Space 2010-2011 CSA (Prime Contractor COMDEV)





QEYSSat Science Team Principal Investigator Thomas Jennewein is an IQC faculty member and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, and leads the Quantum Photonics Laboratory (QPL). The research of the QPL group centers on the applications of quantum photonics and quantum optics, as well as the fundamental aspects of the quantum world. The research group is involved in the experimental design and demonstrations of quantum photonics devices suitable for communication and computing with photons, and the development of ultra-long distance quantum communication systems using terrestrial and satellite-based systems. They are developing photonic quantum entanglement sources for various quantum protocols, and have pioneered the direct generation of three photon entangled states from cascaded parametric down conversion.