(SpaceWatchGlobal) The text below is a summary of the European Space Policy Institute Briefs No. 51: ‘Quantum and Space: The ultimate solution to secured communications?’, originally published in June 2021.
Commissioner Breton proposed the development of a European constellation for secured communications in January 2021 at the 13th European Space conference. Among other objectives,the purpose is to: “project Europe into the quantum era, ensuring quantum encrypted communication”. This statement underlines the effort undertaken by the European Union in recent years to accelerate the development of quantum technologies, including quantum technologies in space.
In space, there are four main areas of quantum applications: satellite-based quantum encryption (which includes Quantum Key Distribution), space-based Time and Frequency Transfer infrastructure (TFT), Earth-sensing and observation using atomic interferometry and finally fundamental sciences.
Quantum technologies have the potential to lead to a paradigm shift for secured communication standards and their development is now considered a strategic priority for Europe’s digital autonomy and sovereignty. Current advances in quantum computing are already posing a fundamental challenge to information security and contribute to growing cyber threats. Europe must be able to protect its critical infrastructures and cyberspace.
In a context of accelerating R&D efforts by other countries and increasingly hostile cyber environment, the EU has taken concrete steps to support the development of European QKD capabilities, including for a space component, in view of developing an integrated European infrastructure.
The central security dimension of quantum applications inevitably raises the question of Europe’s strategic autonomy. Recent declarations by Commissioner Breton confirmed the importance given by the EU to this aspect. Yet, there are important questions on how the European Union will concretely handle the matter.
At the latest G7 summit, Arqit, a UK quantum encryption technology startup which recently merged with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) and expecting to receive approx. €400 million in gross proceeds, announced that it has formed an international consortium of companies and institutions to provide its quantum encryption technology to government customers in a federated system concept.
This announcement is certainly an important milestone for international partnership in the space quantum domain and a success for the European industry. However, European governments participation in both Arqit’s FQS and EuroQCI may raise some governance issues related to security concerns, in particular in the context of complicated relations between the UK and the EU.
he space quantum domain may very well act as a catalyst for a number of strategic questions ahead of the EU and it makes no doubt that upcoming decisions will contribute to lay the foundations of EU’s future approach to strategic autonomy in space and at large.