Aerospace Developing Proof-of-Concept of Quantum Key Distribution for Space Systems
(Aerospace.org) Aerospace Corporation is developing a proof-of-concept of QKD for space systems while also investigating its regulatory and market implications.
The advent and proliferation of space-based technologies has very rapidly transformed the modern world. Yet, for all the technological and innovative advantages that space assets enable for the growth of the global economy, improvement on quality of life and stability of national security, the systems themselves are surprisingly vulnerable. As more entrants to the space enterprise emerge, new threats and risks must be accounted for to ensure the infrastructure is agile and adaptable enough to respond to any potential challenges.
Quantum information systems use a different unit called a qubit (quantum bit), which possesses the properties of a self-destructing code. The information carried by a qubit is encoded in a quantum state, representing multiple combinations of 1s and 0s simultaneously. Due to its fragile nature, measuring this state alters it, and any information about its initial state prior to the measurement is lost.
Therefore, receiving and interpreting a quantum signal can only be done once, as even the first attempt at reading it would result in its destruction. The no-cloning theorem in quantum mechanics prohibits the replication of an unknown quantum state, so trying to copy and restore the signal back is physically impossible. Thus, the receiver would immediately know if there had been an eavesdropper.
In the United States, a number of financial services firms already use QKD to transmit data through fiber-optic cables. However, these signals can only travel so far through fiber before degrading, limiting their range. They are also currently rely on ground fibers, making the current approach untenable for space systems.
Beaming qubits thousands of miles to satellites and ground stations presents a new set of challenges, but Aerospace is helping to make this concept a reality.
Concurrently, Aerospace’s CSPS is examining the policy actions required for widespread adoption of QKD aboard satellites. The center’s work reveals a complex web of government and industry standards organizations – most unrelated to space – that must reach a consensus on the reliability of QKD for broader cybersecurity. Aerospace finds formal standards for QKD, driven collaboratively by private and public sector stakeholders, will be critical for greater adoption and investment. Until then, uncertainty will hinder further development.
From a funding perspective, QKD must compete with higher-profile efforts such as quantum computing for a slice of investment and priority on the national research agenda. Progress has been relatively slow