Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat)

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

Principal Investigator Professor Thomas Jennewein

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

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 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.

UTIAS SFL NEMO-150 micro-satellite bus housing the quantum receiver payload

The UTIAS SFL NEMO-150 micro-satellite bus housing the quantum receiver payload. Left, external view showing extended telescope and baffle. Right, cross-section showing the possible placement of the main receiver payload components demonstrated during the IQC airborne tests ((https://arxiv.org/abs/1612.06396). Images provided by UTIAS SFL.

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.

The airborne quantum key distribution team stands in front of the NRC’s Twin Otter Airborne Research Aircraft that was used in the airborne experiment.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.