Called Eagle-1, it could be Europe’s first space-based quantum-computing cryptographic key distribution system.
The format called QKD (quantum key distribution) requires specialized hardware not yet widely available, facilitating ultra-secure communications that cannot be intercepted without instant alerting of all parties involved.
According to information from the European Space Agency (ESA), the Eagle-1 satellite will spend three years in orbit testing the technologies needed for a new generation of secure communications. The satellite will demonstrate “the feasibility of quantum key distribution technology – which uses the principles of quantum mechanics to distribute encryption keys in such a way that any interception attempt is immediately detected”.
ESA officially signed the contract for Eagle-1 with project leader SES during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris at the end of September. The Luxembourg-based company will lead a consortium of more than 20 European companies to develop Eagle-1.
The first satellite of its kind will be a device weighing about 300 kg, placed in low Earth orbit and optimised for the most efficient operation The platform will be provided by the Italian company SITAEL, using haedware supplied by the German company Tesat Spacecom. Companies from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Switzerland are also involved in the project.
The project is supported by Horizon Europe, the European Union’s key funding programme for research and innovation, and ESA.
Interestingly, although Eagle-1 will be the first QKD sovereign satellite in Europe, China is the first country to operate such a device. Launched in 2016, Micius is the first communications satellite implementing quantum-computing technologies, serving the Communist Party of China (CPC).