With the lift-off of a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, China has deployed the first-ever satellite built on quantum communications technology that is believed to be 100% invulnerable to security breaches.
A statement issued by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency proclaims that the August 16 launch of the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) spacecraft (nicknamed “Micius” after the fifth-century Chinese scientist and philosopher) “is designed to establish ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground and provide insights into the strangest phenomenon in quantum physics—quantum entanglement.” The 1,300-lb. QUESS satellite which will circle the earth every 90 minutes at an altitude of 310 miles, will send messages to ground stations through entangled photons that remain linked over billions of miles of space and are thereby believed to be impossible to hack. Scientists also say that any attempt to eavesdrop on messages transmitted through entangled photons will be detected through induced changes in the photons’ state.
Although scientists in Japan, Canada, and Italy are continuing research in quantum communications and have plans for space experiments, China is the first nation to launch a satellite based on that technology. Initially, researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China will use QUESS to send a secure key between ground stations located in Beijing and Urumqi (a city on China’s central Asian frontier) and between Beijing and Vienna, Austria. If those tests are successful, China will deploy a second satellite within the next five years that will form the basis of what one journalist described as “a super-secure communications network, potentially linking people anywhere.” Observing that, “just like [NASA’s] Galileo [Jupiter probe] and Kepler [space telescope], we used the name of a famous scholar for our first quantum satellite,” Pan Jianwei, the chief scientist on the QUESS project, told reporters: “we hope this will promote and boost confidence in Chinese culture.”