Some report said that China will launch the world’s first quantum communications satellite into space next month. The 500-kilogram (1,100 pounds) box of complex bolts is part of the novel Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) mission, which will ride through the atmosphere on the Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
This satellite aims to test the decidedly spooky phenomenon of quantum entanglement. As it turns out, two particles act as a co-dependent pair when they are separated by huge distances. Their properties are linked, or “mirrored,” and the two act as one individual system.
Mysteriously, a measurement on one particle will be a measurement describing the entire entangled system; it is as if one particle in the pair “knows” what measurement has been conducted on the other, despite the fact that there is no method in which any physical information is being actively transmitted between the two particles.
This means that a satellite could, say, contain one particle whereas one on the surface of the Earth could contain another, and both could be in one entangled system. Alternatively, two particles on the ground, separated by a vast distance, could be entangled by the satellite itself. This is precisely what the two-year-long QUESS mission aims to test when it enters into a Sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 600 kilometers (375 miles) over the coming months.
Ground stations across China, ready to engage in a bit of quantum entanglement with QUESS, have been under construction for some time now. In addition, the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Austria, will also be helping out in this pioneering experiment.
If quantum entanglement across hundreds of kilometers is indeed possible, then information encrypted in quantum systems could theoretically be beamed across the world – and this type of coding is seen by many cryptographers as being theoretically impossible to break. Viewing part of an entangled system would cause it to collapse and make the information contained within it unreadable.
“There are many bottlenecks in the information security,” said Pan Jianwei, the project lead, at a recent seminar in Shanghai, as reported by gbtimes. “The Edward Snowden case has told us that the information in the transmission networks are exposed to risks of being monitored and being attacked by hackers.” He went on to tell the People’s Daily that QUESS will be part of a long-term goal to ensure that “online transfers and payments can be guaranteed through quantum communication for every consumer.”