Quantum key distribution is now a mature quantum communication protocol which allows the verifiably secure sharing of encryption keys between two communicating parties. It seeks to address potential vulnerabilities of data transmission and storage, offering a realistic possibility to share encryption keys which are robust to eavesdropping attacks and future-proof against hacking. Fibre-optic implementations of quantum key distribution currently have a limited practical transmission distance, of less than 400 km, making commercial applications limited. Quantum-specific amplifier/repeater technology is not yet mature enough to increase the transmission distance to achieve global capabilities. Optical fiber is also impractical and expensive for applications where a remote area or moving platform are involved.
In recent years, long-distance free-space quantum communications using low-Earth orbit satellites has seen an increase in interest from the academic community as well as from industrial organisations and national research institutes. The source of this new interest was a series of proof-of-principle demonstrations of satellite-based quantum key distribution in 2017. The use of free-space channels implementing airborne or satellite platforms also opens a range of new applications for quantum communications, as they allow coverage of remote areas, moving platforms, and also avoid the requirement of spooling fibre through volatile regions.
This presentation will give a general introduction to satellite-based quantum communications, an overview of the field, and discuss future endeavours. The talk will also include an overview of our research into novel photonic technology, such as the use of detector array technology, for the optical ground station receiver.