The Red Dragon has risen......
This article was originally published in the Bristol Post and written by Ashley Dove-Jay.
This month, China is launching the Quantum Science Satellite (QSS). This spacecraft will be marked as a cornerstone in the ushering of a new era of communications technology; quantum communications. The key distinguisher with quantum communications is that the laws of physics truly restrict anyone from cracking a quantum encrypted message.
Where conventional encryptions rely on complex mathematical algorithms, which can be solved by equally complex hacking algorithms, quantum encryptions simply put an end to this algorithm war by tapping into a fundamental and immovable law of nature, quantum entanglement.
Before I take you down this spooky rabbit hole, let me refer you to a quote from a father of quantum physics. The legendary Richard Feynman once said, “Nature’s imagination is so much greater than man’s, she’s never going to let us relax.” With that in mind, let’s continue.
Groups of elementary particles like photons can be generated by firing a laser through a crystal. Through experiencing this event of conception together, these particles are intrinsically linked to one another at the quantum level. Simply by looking at the properties of one of these particles, say how it is quantumly spinning, you can understand what the others are doing.
What’s weird is that if you manipulate the properties of one entangled particle, the others will respond in a mirrored way instantly.
What’s really weird is that if you’re careful, you can move these entangled particles to different geographical locations and maintain that instantaneous quantum link; manipulating one will immediately influence the others.
I’ll try to describe this with an analogy. Let’s says you and your friend are quantumly entangled. Let’s put your friend on a planet on the other side of the galaxy. If you shone a torch at your friend’s planet, it would take a hundred thousand years for the light from your torch to reach them. If you dropped the torch on your foot, they’d feel it instantly.
How does this quantum entanglement link between the particles work? We have absolutely no idea. This phenomenon stumped Einstein for decades, and his successors since.
Chinese scientists have figured out how to encrypt messages with this quantum process and send them globally. The QSS generates entangled particles onboard and delivers them to the intended sender and receiver of a message. These entangled particles act like an encryption key and the QSS relays the encrypted message between the sender and receiver.
If somebody somehow manages to intercept the message, before they can even read the “H” in “Hello”, they manipulate elementary particles in the entangled key and cause it to instantly change. This not only makes the information contained in the message instantly unreadable, it makes the sender and receiver aware of the attempted hack.
Such satellites have obvious military applications. But with the next generation of Internet being space-based, not only will such systems enable things like truly secure online financial transactions, they will give the emerging breakthrough technology of quantum computers Internet access.
This satellite quantum communications system, with its security fundamentally rooted within the laws of physics, is what China is bringing online. No other nation, at least publically, is close to doing this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashley Dove-Jay has a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Bristol and is a space engineer at Oxford Space Systems with a broad background in the space arena.