China launches world’s first quantum science satellite from Gobi Desert

China launches world’s first quantum science satellite from Gobi Desert

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China launched the world's first quantum science satellite on Monday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in China.
China launched the world’s first quantum science satellite on Monday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in China.

China: China launched the world’s first quantum science satellite on Monday that is designed to test the possibilities of quantum communications and verify the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. The Quantum Science Satellite lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre at 01:40 Beijing time on Tuesday (17:40 UTC), with a Long March 2D rocket sending the 620kg probe into a sun-synchronous orbit 600 km above the Earth.

Once operational, the satellite will attempt an unprecedented experiment to see if the spooky property of quantum entanglement can operate at long distance by sending entangled photons from the satellite to two ground stations separated by around 1,200 kilometres. Also referred to as QSS or QUESS, the satellite will also test the possibilities of communication via quantum ‘teleportation’, using an entangled pair of photons.

If the satellite can transmit quantum information between ground stations, it could have huge implications for cryptography, as it would allow two parties to communicate secretly. QUESS’s payloads include a quantum key communicator, quantum entanglement emitter, quantum entanglement source, quantum experiment controller and processor and a laser communicator.

The instruments were developed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) in Beijing under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The mission is the brainchild of Pan Jianwei of CAS, described by Nature as China’s quantum space pioneer. The experiments will also involve collaboration with the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Following this China‘s Tiangong-2 space lab, due to launch in mid-September, will also test space–Earth quantum key distribution (QKD), a methodology for generating and distributing random encryption keys using quantum mechanics. The missions are part of a more ambitious target of establishing a global-scale quantum communication network.

The day before launch of QUESS the satellite nicknamed ‘Mozi’, referring to the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi, also known as Micius, born around 470 BCE, who is said to have discovered that light travels in straight lines. The launch is seen as a step forward for both natioanl security in terms of encryption, and a technological advance.