Remote Monitoring System Helps Open the Door for Space-based Quantum Technology

March 01, 2022 by Kristijan Nelkovski

Recent advancements in quantum technologies have prompted a team of engineers to develop a remote control and monitoring system for space-related quantum devices.

During the last couple of years, large corporations such as Google, Amazon, and IBM have invested heavily in developing quantum technologies (QTs).

Research topics and applications for these technologies include everything from quantum computing to quantum sensing, which could increase computational power and sensor resolution by a significant factor.


A graph showing the growth in quantum computing-related deals.

A graph showing the growth in quantum computing-related deals. Image used courtesy of CB Insights


The rapid development of these technologies has prompted some engineers to look for novel uses that might take their quantum devices out of the lab and into Earth’s orbit. 

QTs in space can refer to terrestrial communications, digital services, and research techniques that scientists believe could be improved by using space-bound quantum devices instead of conventional electronic technologies.

This article focuses on some of the uses of QTs in space and the latest development from the University of Sussex whose quantum team has designed a quantum remote access experimentation system.


QKD Secures Quantum Communication Tech

One major area of engineering that QTs could greatly impact in space is quantum telecommunications and quantum internet

Many institutions such as NASA and the European Commission are seeking to develop quantum networks that would enable secure and efficient data transmission around the world and in space. A promising way to do this is to use space-bound quantum technologies.

Securing networks using QTs isn’t a new idea. Quantum key distribution (QKD) is an existing quantum technology that enables the sharing of private encryption keys more securely than any traditional method. 


A high-level example of quantum cryptography

A high-level example of quantum cryptography. Image used courtesy of Quantum Xchange

What makes this technology safer than electronic encrypted key sharing is that the quantum process itself does not only reveal potential eavesdropping during operation but is also theoretically ‘future proof’ in terms of any hypothetical hacks done using technologies that are still in development.

Although QKD is available on the market, it suffers from physical limitations restricting its effective range to about two hundred kilometers. Satellite mediated QKD is just one of these new QT applications that can make implementing secure global coverage of quantum telecommunications possible.

Quantum telecommunications is still in early development and requires much work in both ground and space systems before transporting data for different applications becomes possible. 

Standardizing and certifying a global quantum communications technology is essential for the future of communication and data sharing, especially its security component, which seems to be integral to the European Union as their organizations are interested in financing its development.


Space-based Quantum Sensing Opens New Doors

Alongside computing and communications, quantum technologies also encompass testing and measurement

There are multiple different types of quantum sensors currently on the market (such as high precision clocks, quantum accelerometers, gravimeters, etc.) and more in development that all rely on the use of the quantum physics properties of particles to take highly sensitive and precise measurements.


An example CMOS quantum sensor.

An example CMOS quantum sensor. Image used courtesy of Kim et al


Building satellite systems using these sensors can help scientists unlock new ways to observe the Earth and other celestial bodies. These devices could also be helpful for experiments in space that might require special conditions otherwise impossible or highly impractical to achieve inside of an Earth lab.

Space quantum sensors can help with gravimetry, geodesy, and even understanding quantum mechanics. 

For example, satellite gravimetry, which is already used to detect and predict floods and droughts, could improve its effectiveness, stability, and resolution by using quantum sensors. On the other hand, electronic ones can be prone to interference and can’t adjust their readings in real-time during atmospheric discrepancies.

Besides having an effect on potential future life-saving natural disaster warning systems, space-based sensing can also be used in satellite laboratories for experimentation with gravity, dark matter, dark energy, and other physics phenomena that are currently limited in understanding. 

In particular, understanding physics and quantum mechanics can also lead to discoveries and breakthroughs for better and more advanced future quantum technologies in other fields and industries.


From Earth to Space: A Quantum Monitoring System

The latest achievement for space-based quantum technology comes from the University of Sussex. 

Based on a previous monitoring scheme that enabled researchers to control their experiment involving the remote creation of bose-einstein condensate, this system aimed to help monitor quantum experimentation in inaccessible areas such as space, underground, and other remote and isolated terrains.


A schematic of the researcher's monitoring system.

A schematic of the researcher's monitoring system. Image used courtesy of Barrett et al


One of the problems many quantum technologies face is the volatile nature of the particles involved. 

This system, developed by Dr. Thomas Barret’s team from the University of Sussex Quantum Systems and Devices lab, tries to remedy disturbances and resets in future quantum devices and experiments by taking the scientists who operate them outside the lab.

With remote monitoring of different components of an experiment’s environment such as pressure, temperature, and magnetic fields, this system can allow engineers working on their project to access their lab without destabilizing the quantum particles they’re working with and thus not disrupting their experiment.

A project like this one is significant for the automation and debugging of developing technologies. 

With the rising growth and interest in QTs, a real-time monitoring apparatus is necessary for their stability and security, especially when they carry the importance of a global communications network such as the ones mentioned before.

According to the team, the added benefits of their work, which utilizes tech already available and used in other sectors such as farming, manufacturing, and finance, could help in different quantum fields that span anywhere from experimentation to GPS navigation and even medical imaging.


A Positive Outlook Towards Quantum Technologies

Quantum technologies are slowly becoming a mainstream reality. From engineering proofs of concept to the development of functional quantum devices, many universities, corporations, and even government organizations are betting on the future of QTs.

The prevalence of satellite communications that our traditional electronic technologies rely on also suggests that these future quantum systems need to have a satellite component and a space component that some institutions are also working towards.

It’s interesting to see the types of QTs that will come out of these companies and universities in the following years. Although practical quantum computers (which is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about quantum technologies) might still be a long way away, telecommunications, sensing, and experimentation show promising results that might find widespread implementation in the near future.