Connecting Canada and Europe through quantum satellite communication

Monday, March 6, 2023

Dr. Thomas Jennewein, a faculty member at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) and the University of Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, has his sights set high and wide — specifically on a quantum satellite orbiting high above the Earth to connect Canada and Europe via a secure quantum communication link.

HyperSpace, a recently started three-year collaboration between researchers and funding partners in Canada and Europe, including Jennewein’s team at Waterloo, are aiming to bring this dream to fruition. The goal of the collaboration is to demonstrate the feasibility of a transatlantic quantum satellite link capable of distributing photons entangled in multiple ways between quantum ground stations located in Canada and Europe. The teams will focus on research into integrated quantum photonics and optical space communications, including novel protocols and quantum link technologies.

“By the end of the HyperSpace project, we want to have the satellite mission architecture ready, in essence to present a ‘how to’ guide for an EU-Canada quantum satellite mission,” says Jennewein. “We want to identify the potential technological bottlenecks, so we know to prioritize these areas as we work to make this future satellite a reality.”

Diagram of a satellite above the globe, sending rainbows of light towards Canada and Europe, with scientific plans highlighted

Conceptual diagram of a quantum satellite dual-downlink scenario for linking Canada and Europe, as well as related research areas that will be explored in the HyperSpace project. (HD: High-dimensional)

Entanglement distribution is a crucial component to building the future "quantum internet" which will be a secure global quantum communication network. The HyperSpace satellite is envisioned as a double link node with two independent telescopes onboard the satellite. This dual link allows for the distribution of entangled photons simultaneously between widely separated quantum ground stations. Logistically, for the HyperSpace satellite to be capable of a transatlantic link, it needs to have a high orbit, which means the photons are highly likely to be lost as they travel from space to the ground. To solve this problem, the HyperSpace research teams are investigating how to make these longer satellite links feasible, by sending photons that are entangled in multiple degrees of freedom (frequency, time, polarisation), since they are more robust against loss and subsequent errors.

To learn more about the HyperSpace project, including the contributions from Dr. Thomas Jennewein, read the full story on Waterloo News.