The race to bring quantum teleportation to your world

There'd an international quantum teleportation space race heating up
October 5, 2012
Quantum_Comm_Large

Schematic of quantum teleportation beaming particles from a satellite to two ground stations (credit: IQOQI Vienna)

Around the world, countries are investing time and millions of dollars into the technology, which uses satellites to beam bits of quantum information down from the sky and and could profoundly change worldwide communication, Wired Science reports.

In the past year, a team from China and another in Austria set new records for quantum teleportation, using a laser to beam photons through the open air over 60 and 89 miles, respectively.

If developed, quantum teleportation satellites could allow spies to pass large amounts of information back and forth or create unhackable codes.

Should we ever build quantum computers — which would be smaller and exponentially more powerful than modern computers, able to model complex phenomenon, rapidly crunch numbers, and render modern encryption keys useless — they would need quantum teleporters in order to be networked together in a quantum version of the Internet.

China plans to launch a satellite with a quantum teleportation experiment payload in 2016 and the European, Japanese, and Canadian space agencies are hoping to fund their own quantum teleportation satellite projects in the coming years.

How It works

The trick to teleportation comes from a quirk of quantum mechanics that allows you to create two particles that are completely in tune with one another, which are known as an entangled pair.

To send a controllable signal, you need quantum teleportation. This requires three subatomic particles, say photons. Two of the photons are entangled with one another, and the third contains the bit of information you want to send.

“Now we want to show that this kind of communication might be useful on a global scale,” said physicist Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna, who led the Austrian quantum-distance team. “The method of choice is to use quantum communication via satellite,” he added, since photons can’t travel very far in glass fiber without getting absorbed.

The Race to Space

Being able to do this quantum satellite teleportation would provide many new advantages, in particular the ability to create cryptographic keys for sensitive information that would be stored in subatomic particles. If anyone were to measure the particle, they would change its properties so spy agencies would always know if they’ve been hacked. Someday in the future, James Bond and MI6 could be passing secret codes back and forth on a teleported light beam through space.

With this in mind, “there are now a couple of research groups considering how to build a quantum payload suitable for a satellite,” said physicist Thomas Jennewein of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. “There’s basically a race going on to get into space first with a quantum satellite.”

The Chinese space agency has put $554 million toward funding five scientific satellites over the coming years, one of which will be used for quantum communication.

This is a new direction for China, which has in the past launched more than 100 satellites, but until now only one for dedicated scientific experiments. While the exact figure for the quantum communication project is unknown, it could be on the order of $50 to 100 million, estimated Zeilinger. This stands in contrast to Europe and Canada, which have invested an order of magnitude less for their projects.