SEAQUE: Space Station To Host “Self-Healing” Quantum Communications Technology Demo

ISS Nanoracks Bishop Airlock

SEAQUE will be hosted on the International Space Station by the Nanoracks Bishop airlock. The blue-and-gold brackets attached to the side of the airlock are for external payloads. The technology demonstration will be installed at one of those sites. Credit: NASA

The Quantum computers hold the promise of operating millions of times faster than conventional computers, and distributed quantum sensors may lead to new understandings of Earth and our place in the universe by measuring minute changes in gravity. But for quantum computers or quantum sensors to communicate, they will require a dedicated communications network. A key component of this network will be space “nodes” that can receive and transmit quantum data to and from the ground via free-space optical communications.

EAQUE sets out to prove the viability of technologies that could enable orbiting nodes to securely connect quantum transmitters and receivers over great distances. To do that, these nodes will need to produce and detect pairs of entangled photons. Eventually, transmitting such photons to quantum computers on the ground could provide the foundation for quantum cloud computing – the means to exchange and process quantum data regardless of where the computers are located.

Once attached to the space station’s exterior, SEAQUE will also test a technique to help space-based nodes “self-heal” from radiation damage, a continual challenge of maintaining delicate instruments in space.

“Demonstrating these two technologies builds the foundation for future global quantum networks that can connect quantum computers located hundreds or even thousands of miles apart,” said Makan Mohageg, SEAQUE co-investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Like the network it’s intended to enable, the project is global. The SEAQUE collaboration includes scientists and students from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who are leading the project; the Bishop airlock, owned and operated by Nanoracks. Nanoracks is also providing the mission operations services and coordinating the launch services. The integrated optical entangled photon source for SEAQUE is developed by AdvR, Inc. Expected to launch no earlier than August 2022, the technology demonstration is funded by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

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