Secret Codes Ready to Take Quantum Leap in Space

If secret agent James Bond wanted to tell his MI6 superiors about the location of a stolen superweapon without tipping off villains, he might turn to a global satellite network that transmitted coded keys made unbreakable by the weird laws of physics. Such “quantum key distribution” already exists on Earth beyond the realm of Hollywood spy fantasies, and could soon head for space.

Plans to launch quantum communication satellites have already begun to take shape in Canada, Japan and the European Union. The satellites could securely transmit digital keys through light particles by using physics tricks such as quantum entanglement — the phenomenon that allows two entangled particles to affect one another other even across the distance of a galaxy.

“If we can build these quantum key distribution systems and make them global, we will be able to transfer information in such a way that if there’s a hacker who tries to find this information, we will know,” said Raymond LaFlamme, director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “Then we will be able to find a better way to encrypt that bit of information.”

The European Space Agency has even pushed for a “QUEST” space experiment that would test quantum communication to and from the International Space Station. Researchers discussed such ideas during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on Feb. 19.

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