China to launch first quantum communication satellite

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Chinese scientists are ready to conduct experiments on quantum communications after the country launches the world's first quantum satellite at the end of this month.

Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated. It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it.

Anton Zeilinger, an Austrian physicist at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, says that the upcoming experiment is of great significance as it is related to long-distance data transmission and communication, which will form a future quantum internet safer and faster than the current one.

"Well this satellite will be the first one worldwide, which tests this new technology, and I'm sure we will learn a lot about how the data rates are, how the quality of the data is, how the messages can really be sent and things like that. You know, there has been quantum communication tested on the ground, but this is the first experiment in space, which will allow us to cover larger distances than you can do on ground. It is the very first experiment of this kind, so this is really a pioneering project."

The project includes the launch of a satellite and the building of four ground stations for quantum communication and one space quantum teleportation experiment station. Upon completion, the satellite will be able to establish quantum optical links simultaneously with two ground bases thousands of kilometers apart.

Shanghai Control Center for Quantum Secure Communications has been running test operations in coordination with five other sub-control centers in Beijing, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Yunnan Province and Tibet Autonomous Region.

Researcher Zhang Wenzhuo explains how the centers work together.

"The sub-control centers are like the limbs of a person, and the main control center is like the brain. So the brain sends directions to the limbs, and the limbs respond by doing a series of movements. In the experiment, the satellite transmits data to the earth, and the main control center would collect and analyze the data before giving orders to sub-control centers about what to do next."

Professor Zeilinger and his team will work at a telescope observatory in Vienna when the satellite is launched, in coordination with their Chinese counterparts to observe and track the satellite.

However according to him, the Chinese researchers are still facing some challenges.

"The challenges are to make sure that the equipment works up there. You cannot go there and fix it. You know it has to be working all the time. There are some challenges maybe due to cosmic background radiation. The main challenge is to really be able to communicate all the time. This telescope will have to follow very precisely the satellite; the satellite has a telescope which sends down the photons precisely. To have all this work is not simple."

Quantum communication has been listed as a prioritized area in the country's five-year plan for technological innovation from 2016 to 2020.

The plan also made it clear that both basic and cutting-edge scientific research will be strengthened, with better facilities, new national research bases, more innovative researchers and improved global cooperation.

For CRI, I'm Niu Honglin.

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