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A miniaturized source of quantum entanglement. Photo: Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore

A nanosatellite can be used to produce a detectable quantum signal in space, researchers report.

Why it matters: Researchers envision creating global quantum communications networks, but quantum signals can't currently be transmitted long distances. Constellations of small, relatively less-expensive satellites that beam the signals from space to receivers on Earth have been proposed as a way to circumvent the problem.

How it works: In an entangled pair of photons, the state of one photon is linked to that of the other regardless of how much distance is between them — a principle of quantum mechanics that researchers want to use to distribute quantum keys for communications.

  • If a message sent with a quantum key is intercepted or attempted to be intercepted, the state of the photon would be changed and the key would no longer work.
  • Photons can be carried on fiber-optic cables but not for long distances because the signal can be scattered or absorbed by the cables.
  • Researchers instead want to use satellites as nodes for distributing quantum signals.

What they did: Aitor Villar from the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore and his colleagues built a miniature source for entangling photons and put it aboard a CubeSat, a roughly 10 x 10 x 30-centimeter nanosatellite.

  • They report the source could withstand being launched on a rocket and produced a signal with the reduced power available on a nanosatellite in low-Earth orbit.
  • The system, which weighs 2.6 kg and is called SpooQy-1, shines a blue laser diode on nonlinear crystals to create the entangled photon pairs.
  • "This shows that entanglement technology can be deployed with minimal resources in novel operating environments, providing valuable ‘space heritage’ for different components and assembling techniques," the authors write in the journal Optica.

What it solves: A team led by Jian-Wei Pan of the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, China, has generated quantum signals on satellites, but a single satellite cannot currently cover the entire globe.

What's next: The researchers are now working on a system to send the entangled photon pair from the CubeSat to a ground receiver.

  • Go deeper: China reports key advance in encrypted long-range communications (Axios)

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 26, 2020 - Technology

New federal centers announced for AI and quantum computing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House this morning announced over $1 billion to establish 12 new federal research centers dedicated to AI and quantum sciences.

Why it matters: The two fields are among the most important in emerging technology, and the new initiative will help the U.S. assert its international leadership in an increasingly competitive field that will impact everything from national security to climate change.

Updated 34 mins ago - Economy & Business

Ubisoft workers demand company accountability in open letter

Photo: Frederic Brown / Getty Images

Close to 500 current and former employees of “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft are standing in solidarity with protesting game developers at Activision Blizzard with a letter that criticizes their company's handling of sexual misconduct.

Why it matters: Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard workers are framing the actions as part of a bigger movement meant to have lasting change in the industry and its culture.

Companies deploy tech to prevent retail crime

Customers in a Home Depot in Pleasanton, California, in February 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Retailers have a new edge for fighting theft: They're using technology to disable stolen goods — from iPhones to Black & Decker drills — and render them useless.

Why it matters: Organized retail crime has a considerable affect on retailers every year, costing them an average of $719,000 per $1 billion dollars in sales, according to estimates from the National Retail Federation.