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TNO joins European project to develop space-based ‘quantum internet’

05 Sep 2023

Terrestrial global quantum internet is “blocked” due to signal losses in fiber, says Netherlands research group.

TNO, an independent not-for-profit research organisation based in the Netherlands, has joined a European collaboration to develop what it calls a “global quantum internet enabled from space”. The group’s justification is that a possible terrestrial future global quantum internet is “blocked” due to the significant signal losses in fiber.

TNO believes that satellites are required “so that cities and continents can be connected to eventually be part of the global quantum internet and fully benefit from its promising applications,” it stated.

To provide for this, TNO and the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS) and a consortium of other European partners, join forces in the LaiQa-project, which stands for Leap in Advancing of critical Quantum key distribution-space components.

This development was announced on September 1st in Berlin, Germany. Kees Buijsrogge, Director TNO Space, commented, “By combining TNO’s expertise in the field of quantum, classical networks and free space optics with the expertise or our European partners, we’re confident we can develop the space technology to make it happen.”

Because of their unprecedented computational power, quantum computers will offer new possibilities for innovation, stated TNO, adding, “In the coming decades, such computers are expected to solve some of the biggest challenges humankind is facing in medicine discovery, material design, predictive analysis, to give some examples.”

Why space-based?

To unlock its full potential, it is necessary to connect quantum computers and devices worldwide via a quantum internet using photons as the carriers of quantum information.

TNO believes the advent of a global quantum internet is currently blocked because “optical fiber-based quantum communication is limited to a few hundreds of kilometers due to losses over distance”. Therefore the proposed use of satellites “offers a promising solution to overcome the limitations over national and continental scales, and eventually enable a worldwide quantum internet”.

The LaiQa project has several objectives. First it will further advance the technical building blocks required to set up a quantum communication. It will be necessary to make these suitable for use in space and test their integration in the lab and outside, in a long distance free-space-to-fiber setup.

Furthermore LaiQa aims to develop the necessary critical technologies. Specifically, it focuses on three different photon sources, a quantum memory fit for long distance communication, an advanced fiber-coupling/adaptive optics system to interface satellites and ground stations, and software components to optimize the system architecture.

The project will also demonstrate Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), the secure way to share encryption keys between distant users. The demo will take place in lab conditions, in a terrestrial free-space optical testbed, and eventually in an in-field demonstration using the Greek Helmos optical ground station. LaiQa will also propose specifications standards on space components for QKD, in order to ease and foster the uptake of further activities in the field.

Funded by the European Union, the project is expected to start at the beginning of 2024 and run for three years. It will be led by the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS), based in Athens, Greece.

Besides TNO, other involved partners are QTLabs – Quantum Technology Laboratories, Austria; QSSYS – Quantum Space Systems, Germany; as well as the National Observatory of Athens, Eindhoven University of Technology, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and Thales Alenia Space Italia.

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