Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) researcher Thomas Jennewein is pioneering new applications for quantum technologies, in particular quantum communications networks in space.
Encryption in the 21st century
The 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 concept for space-based quantum communication
The IQC team has been working with partners in industry and academia to advance a proposed microsatellite mission called the Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite (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 are 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 advance the crucial Detector Assembly subsystem of the QKD payload for the proposed QEYSSat mission.
In collaboration with the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), IQC has studied the feasibility of performing a rapid and low cost space-based QKD demonstration mission using a nanosatellite platform. This collaborative study was funded by the 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 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 airplane in the Ottawa area.
Download Quantum Science Heading to Space PDF.
- Research: Thomas Jennewein, Principal Investigator, Quantum Photonics Laboratory
- Media: Siobhan Stables, Director, Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Institute for Quantum Computing
QEYSSat and QKD Videos
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.
QEYSSat Science Team Support Contract
|2017-present||Canadian Space Agency (CSA)|
NSERC UK-Canada Alliance Grant Reference-Frame Independent Quantum Communication for Satellite-Based Networks (ReFQ)
|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|
|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
|Technologies for quantum communication satellites||2016-2019||CSA|
QEYSSat Detector assembly + QKD Payload Elegant Breadboard (EBB)
|Towards quantum sensing with photons||2016-2017||NRC/DRDC|
Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking (APT) System for QKD Payload
|Facility for Global and Secure Quantum Communication||2013-2018||CFI & ORF/MEDI|
Airborne QKD demonstration
Quantum Key Distribution Receiver (QKDR) for QEYSSat
|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)|
In the media
06/14/19 - Cybersecurity from space: the Government of Canada invests in quantum technology, Canadian Space Agency
03/18/19 - Space Strategy for Canada, Canadian Space Agency
12/19/17 - Press release from Canadian Space Agency
04/27/17 - Press release from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
02/02/17 - Wired article by Sophia Chen
12/22/16 - "We've got photons!"
12/20/16 - Globe and Mail article by Ivan Semeniuk
Quantum Photonics Laboratory
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.