Quantum Leap in Optical Space Communications?

NASA has just finish testing and integration of its first high-data-rate laser communications system for the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). It will demonstrate high-rate laser communications from lunar orbit to a ground terminal on the Earth.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) uses an infrared beam that can be received on Earth by one of three telescopes located in Mexico, California or Spain. It is expected to deliver an estimated six time increase the throughput of current radio systems.

Keeping that signal aligned over 238,900 miles while moving through space towards the Moon is the tricky bit. Developers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory have designed a system to cancel out the slightest spacecraft vibrations and other challenges of pointing and tracking the system from such a distance.

The LLCD will also play a vital part in NASA’s 2017 Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, a key test of laser-based relay comms in future missions.

The Deep Space Network (DSN), the Near Earth Network (NEN) and the Space Network (SN) are the three networks that Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) uses to support missions in space. Each of these networks provides both NASA and non-NASA missions tracking, telemetry and command, and audio and visual capabilities in order for missions to complete their objectives and goals in space.

Presumably those goals include quantum communications with an optical TDRSS follow-on, so that government entities can safely relay spy satellite data, maybe even drones, with virtual certainty that the link has not been monitored. With a working quantum computer, you could easily decipher encrypted messages currently floating around on the Internet between banks, governments, and so forth.

USC’s Aeneas cubesat was the first to track a point on the surface of the earth, deploying a half-meter parabolic dish. The main payload was a 1-watt WiFi-like transceiver that will be used to track the cargo containers.

A secondary payload was a 49 core MAESTRO processor, which will be space-qualified with the mission. The CubeSat was sent up with others as hitch hiker to the main mission, a pair of $1.3 billion NRO Ocean Surveillance Satellites, orbiting about 1,100 miles. They track every warship, and all commercial and large private vessels, anywhere in the world.

According to Thomas Jennewein and Brendon Higgins, the first step towards space-based quantum communication would be to place a satellite in a low-Earth orbit (LEO) – at an altitude of less than 2000 km.

Last week, a team that includes Perimeter and IQC researchers received funding to develop a small satellite that will test quantum theory in space. The IQC cubesat will perform various optical experiments which will directly test quantum theory. The satellite will be developed by a team of academic researchers and private partners, coordinated by Communitech, a local technology association. Any launch is still some years away.

The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) in Waterloo, Canada, is working closely with the Canadian Space Agency and industry partners to design a quantum satellite. Astronaut Steve MacLean, who holds a doctorate in physics, will head a new Canadian research institute focused on scientific research and development in quantum physics associated with Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

D-Wave Systems, based in Burnaby, British Columbia, says it makes “the world’s first commercially available quantum computer.” D-Wave’s newest quantum machine, with a 512 qubit processor, is due out this year.

See Dailywireless: The Quantum Space Race

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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