The aim of the QIPS project (financed by ESA) is to explore quantum phenomena and to demonstrate quantum communication over long distances. Based on the current state-of-the-art a first study investigating the feasibility of space based quantum communication has to establish goals for mid-term and long-term missions, but also has to test the feasibility of key issues in a long distance ground-to-ground experiment. We have therefore designed a proof-of-concept demonstration for establishing single photon links over a distance of 144 km between the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife to evaluate main limitations for future space experiments. Here we report on the progress of this project and present first measurements of crucial parameters of the optical free space link.
Quantum key distribution (QKD)1 is the first method of quantum information science that will find its way into our everyday life. It employs fundamental laws of quantum physics to ensure provably secure symmetric key generation between two parties. The key can then be used to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data with unconditional security. Here, we report on a free space QKD implementation over a distance of 480 m using strongly attenuated laser pulses. It is designed to work continuously without human interaction. Until now, it produces quantum keys unattended at night for more than 12 hours with a sifted key rate of more than 50 kbit/s on average and a quantum bit error rate between 3% and 5%.
We report on the experimental implementation of a BB84-type quantum key distribution protocol over a 144 km free-space link using weak coherent laser pulses. The security was assured by employing decoy state analysis, and optimization of the link transmission was achieved with bi-directional active telescope tracking. This enabled us to distribute a secure key at a rate of 11 bits/s at an attenuation of about 35dB. Utilizing a simple transmitter setup and an optical ground station capable of tracking spacecraft in low earth orbit, this outdoor experiment demonstrates the feasibility of global key distribution via satellites.