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'Hack-proof' satellite sends secure messages from space in quantum breakthrough

10 August 2017

The aim behind this launch was to enable "hack proof" communications. Nicknamed "Micius", the satellite weighs over 600 kilograms and is situated almost 500 kilometres above the Earth's surface. This is the first ever code of its own nature.

For a crack group of Chinese scientists, "hack-proof" communications have quickly become a reality - using what is commonly known as "quantum key distribution" to help revolutionise how secure messages are sent across the globe, using satellite-to-ground technology. This means that the communications may be more efficient than fiber optics. "We can thus envision a space-ground integrated quantum network, enabling quantum cryptography - most likely the first commercial application [.] useful at a global scale". The main feature of such a communication is that an object doesn't need to physically travel from one place to another.

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The first experimental verification of quantum teleportation was carried out in 1997 by Austrian quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger. Long-distance teleportation has been recognized as a fundamental element in protocols such as large-scale quantum networks and distributed quantum computation5,6. In the past 20 years, scientists have got success in demonstrating quantum teleportation using different physical systems, such as ions, electrons, atoms, etc. Scientists are also aware of the fact that to create a global-scale quantum internet, they need to extend the range of teleportation to thousands of miles-a big challenge achieve. A promising solution to this problem is exploiting satellite platform and space-based link, which can conveniently connect two remote points on the Earth with greatly reduced channel loss because most of the photons' propagation path is in empty space.

Pan Jianwei, a lead scientist of QUESS and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said the satellite sent quantum keys to ground stations in Xinglong, in north China's Hebei Province, and Nanshan, near Urumqi, the capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The communication distance between the two ground stations and the satellite varied from 645 km to 1,200 km.

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If intercepted or measured, the quantum state of the key will change, and the information will self-destruct according to the system's designers.

"That, for instance, can meet the demand of making an absolute safe phone call or transmitting a large amount of bank data", Pan said.

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'Hack-proof' satellite sends secure messages from space in quantum breakthrough