China launches 'hack-proof' quantum satellite in world first
Beijing: In a late-night launch from the desolate Gobi Desert, China has shot into orbit the world’s first quantum satellite in the race to solve one of modern cyber -espionage’s greatest conundrums: “hack-proof” communications.
Nicknamed ‘Micius’, after the ancient Chinese philosopher, the 600-kilogram satellite was fired from a Long March-2D rocket at 1:40am on Tuesday, state media reported.
The transfer of data using quantum communications is considered impenetrable due to a particle phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, with eavesdroppers unable to monitor the transfer without altering the quantum state and thereby being detected. In theory, two parties can communicate in secret by sharing an encryption key encoded in a string of photons.
China’s big-spending quantum research initiative, part of Beijing’s broader multi-billion dollar strategy to overtake the West in science and space research, is being closely watched in global scientific research and security circles, with groups from Canada, Japan, Singapore and Europe also planning their own quantum space experiments.
Quantum technology is a major strategic focus of China’s most recent five-year economic development plan, with investment likely driven in part by concern over the cyber capabilities of the United States.
“The Edward Snowden case has told us that the information in the transmission networks are exposed to risks of being monitored and being attacked by hackers,” China’s quantum program’s lead physicist, Pan Jianwei, told Caixin magazine last year.
In the report, Professor Pan said China hoped to link Asia and Europe by 2020 and have a worldwide quantum communications network by 2030.
The technology could likely initially be used to transmit sensitive diplomatic, government and military information, with future applications including secure transmission of personal and financial data. But the key military applications were also clear.
“China is completely capable of making full use of quantum communications in a regional war,” Professor Pan told Caixin. “The direction of development in the future calls for using relay satellites to realise quantum communications and control that covers the entire army.”
State backing has enabled China to leapfrog other countries researching the pioneering technology. The Wall Street Journal reported that Professor Pan’s former PhD adviser, University of Vienna physicist Anton Zeilinger, had tried since 2001 to convince the European Space Agency to launch a similar satellite. He was now working on his former student’s satellite.
Beijing does not disclose how much money it allocates to quantum research, though funding for basic research, which includes quantum physics, was $US101 billion in 2015, up from $US1.9 billion a decade earlier.
US federal funding for quantum research is about $200 million a year, the Journal reported. A congressional report said development of quantum science would “enhance US national security,” but funding fluctuations had set back progress.
So far, researchers have tested quantum communication up to a distance oof about 300 kilometres, according to the Scientific American. The Micius launch will enable Chinese researchers to test communication over much greater distances, with the new satellite attempting to communicate with ground stations in Beijing and Vienna.
The story China launches ‘hack-proof’ quantum satellite in world first first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.