UK Unicorn Bringing Space-based Quantum Key Distribution Soon

UK startup Arqit plans to start distributing quantum encryption keys across the globe using satellites by 2023. Satellite delivery of quantum encryption keys overcomes the problem of terrestrial fiber optic transmission. Fiber optic communications degrade, requiring a repeater about every 60 miles. Photon signals aren’t absorbed in the vacuum of space, and so can travel for hundreds of miles without degradation. The problem with satellite transmission is preventing the satellite from being hacked. Arqit seems to have solved that problem, as they have filed a patent directed to quantum encryption of satellite telemetry tracking and command links. 

Arqit will collaborate with US defense giant Northrop Grumman and UK telecom giant British Telecom to launch two quantum key distribution satellites from Spaceport Cornwall in the UK aboard Virgin Orbit‘s LauncherOne. Arqit raised $400M via SPAC in May 2021, making it the first UK space unicorn.

In addition to Arqit’s satellite encryption patent application, Northrop Grumman has an issued patent and BT has one issued patent and two applications. 

Although other entities have used satellites for quantum communication, none seem to be specifically working on protecting the satellite from hackers, such as man-in-the-middle attacks. That means this keystone technology is still open space. File away!

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