Quantum computers threaten the security of the internet and secure communications. Current public key cryptography methods, such as RSA and ECC (see glossary below), could be broken by a large-scale quantum computer. Rapid advancements in quantum computing have brought closer the horizon when this could potentially occur. Alternate “quantum-secure” methods of encryption are therefore required. Post-quantum cryptography (PQC) seeks to use other types of mathematical problems that may be difficult for a quantum computer to crack, candidate cryptosystems are currently under evaluation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is another approach that uses the laws of physics to establish the security of the encryption keys sent to users.
But currently, QKD systems using optical fibre have limited range. Satellites have been proposed as an alternate platform for securely connecting the world and the Chinese satellite, Micius, has recently proven the concept, sparking a Quantum Space Race in the process. In the UK, I lead the QUARC project to utilise small satellites, CubeSats, to develop the technology and rapidly gain the experience and knowledge required to deploy and operate satellite QKD.
A key part of my Research in Residence with the Satellite Applications Catapult is to look at enabling wide-spread adoption of SatQKD technologies and services. This is through identifying a roadmap that charts the development of key components, capabilities, and implementations that establishes short, mid, and long term prospects.
An early achievement was the award of the Innovate UK funded ViSatQT project that includes a range of UK companies (large and small), as well as academic (University of Strathclyde) and public organisations (the Satellite Applications Catapult). Led by Airbus, ViSatQT will explore a range of advanced SatQKD concepts and technologies and aims to integrate them into conventional optical communications systems that are increasingly built into satellites.
The next step will be to go beyond this initial feasibility study and develop payloads and mission for in-orbit demonstration of the technologies developed as part of the roadmap.
As part of the ViSatQT, we will be engaging with stakeholders from all parts of the supply chain, from components manufacturers to end-users. We want to identify applications, industries, and uses of satellite quantum communication so that the technology and its capabilities can be enhanced to support these. We also need to connect to the upstream suppliers to identify promising approaches and technologies that require long-term research and investment to able to provide the required capabilities. We welcome dialogue and insights from all parties who are interested in or may be impacted by SatQKD or secure communications in general.
If you would like to find out more about all our Research in Residence projects, ask questions, and connect with our academics, join us on Friday 11 September, 10.30am – 12:00pm, when we will be hosting a live Q&A session.