QKD system paves the way for cost-effective quantum satellite networks

(ORDO NEWS) — The researchers report an experimental demonstration of a quantum key distribution (QKD) network using a compact QKD terminal aboard China’s Tiangong-2 space laboratory and four ground stations.

The new QKD system is less than half the weight of the system the researchers developed for the Mikius satellite, which was used to host the world’s first virtual quantum-encrypted teleconference.

This demonstration represents an important step towards the practical use of QKD based on constellations of small satellites, which is considered one of the most promising ways to create a global quantum communication network.

“QKD provides unconditional security by using single photons to encode information between two remote terminals,” said research team member Cheng-Zhi Peng. “The compact system we have developed will help reduce the cost of implementing QKD by allowing the use of small satellites.”

In previous work, the research team has demonstrated intercontinental QKD and satellite communications quantum networks using the Mikiusa satellite.

However, the QKD system used on board this satellite is cumbersome and expensive. The system was the size of a large refrigerator, weighed about 130 kg and required 130 watts of power.

The researchers aimed to develop and demonstrate a more practical terrestrial QKD network. To do this, they developed a compact payload that allowed Tiangong-2 to act as a QKD satellite terminal.

The payload, consisting of a tracking system, a QKD transmitter and a laser transmitter, weighs about 60 kg, requires 80 watts of power and is about the size of 2 microwave ovens.

QKD satellite transmission can be used to create a highly reliable global quantum communication network.

The researchers are currently working to improve their QKD system by increasing system speed and performance, reducing costs, and exploring the possibility of transmitting QKD data from satellite to earth during daylight hours.

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