Aerospace giant Airbus has developed high-capacity satellites capable of supporting the high throughput needs of satellite-based quantum key distribution networks, and plans to have the new systems airborne by 2026 to support the scheduled 2027 launch of the European Quantum Communications Infrastructure (EuroQCI).
High performance and high throughput are absolute musts for a satellite QKD network, according to Dr. Andrew Thain, Expert in Quantum Communications and Quantum Information Systems for Airbus Space Systems.
Giving a presentation on satellite-based QKD at last week’s IQT Fall conference, Thain said, “We think that throughput will be king in this story,” and added later, “We have a concept for the high capacity satellite, and it’s possible to implement a high-capacity QKD satellite by exploiting basic technology that we’ve already developed in Airbus.”
He further explained the technology advances the company had made to accomplish this. “The very first part for achieving high capacities to increase pulse rate has been transmitted for QKD source, so this involves not only the micro electronics of the source itself but also the jitter of the detector and possessing a very good synchronization between the two. Fortunately, synchronization is something we’ve been working extensively for other applications. The other part of this story is a very large diameter optical terminal, because the larger the diameter of the telescope, the narrower the transmitted beam. We have classical optical terminals… that were developed for geostationary missions to provide ultra high capacity classical links.”
Also key to the new satellite system are very large and agile steerable apertures that provide flexibility to create large diameter terminals or smaller terminals that potentially could be deployed on rooftops.
Airbus has been a force in the quantum technology sector in a number of ways, most notably as an investor in several quantum start-ups through its Airbus Ventures unit, but also as an early technology experimenter and implementer in the field.
“We’re big fans of quantum technology, and this is because we see it as a transversal enabler, by which we mean that it can be applied to all of our business units,” Thain said. “If we take the example of quantum computational fluid dynamics, this is something that can be used for any flying platform… So we invest rather heavily in the three pillars of quantum technology–quantum computing, quantum sensing, and quantum communication.”
He added that QKD will be just the beginning for EuroQCI, for which Airbus is the provider of the entire space component, as well as supplier of network control and management capabilities. “The European Commission financed this particular project as a quantum communication infrastructure that delivers QKD to key users across Europe, and in a longer term future eventually evolving to a quantum information network,” Thain said. “It will be used in European use cases such as inter-governmental communications, securing critical infrastructures, and undersea communications, and then will stimulate a quantum ecosystem and also stimulate ideas just in the same way that ARPANET a few decades later eventually gave rise to e-commerce and “e” whatever you like.”
Image: Airbus’ Andrew Thain described quantum technology as a “transversal enabler” for Airbus during his presentation at IQT’s Fall Quantum Cybersecurity conference. (Screen capture)
Dan O’Shea has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years.