InSpace Laser Communications Program

5 September 2019

Our social, economic, scientific and defence systems are critically reliant on satellite communications, but current radio-frequency transmissions carry limited data, creating a bottleneck in the data downlink pipeline.

Due to having much shorter wavelengths than radio frequency signals, laser beams can transmit data at a much higher rate and have the potential to meet the growing global demand for space-to-ground communications. In addition, laser communication is naturally suited to being secured through quantum encryption, providing provably-secure transmission of data. Australia’s climate and location present a unique opportunity for our nation to be the future leader in satellite downlinks via laser communications.

InSpace’s Laser Communications program will leverage existing ANU expertise to develop the infrastructure and technology required for a global, quantum-secured, optical communications network. This program will combine and expand the Research School of Physics’ world-leading capability in quantum encryption and quantum memories with the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics’ expertise in adaptive optics.

The 10-year+ program will comprise a series of linked initiatives, including:

  • Establishing an Australian-first Optical Ground Station (OGS)
    • This fully-funding OGS will be dedicated to laser communications to space and optical communications research. It will establish new commercial opportunities by attracting national and international partners to utilise the facility for downlink from space-based assets, and support the development of advanced quantum communication technologies. The ACT OGS will be the first node in an Australian-wide optical ground station network.
  • Free-space continuous variable quantum key distribution (CV-QKD)
    • This initiative will develop the technology and protocols to enable CV-QKD for provably-secure encryption. The major advantage of encoding the quantum information in the continuous variables of light (e.g. amplitude and phase), rather than in discrete variables is that this allows transmission during the day, rather than being restricted to only communicating at night.
  • Free-space quantum network demonstration
    • In this initiative, a portable quantum memory system will be developed to enable quantum entanglement to be distributed and stored across a free-space channel. This will demonstrate the crucial technology necessary for a free-space quantum network, allowing long range distribution of quantum encryption keys to many users via satellites. This mission will be conducted in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
  • Quantum satellite (QUOLLsat)
    • This satellite mission (QUOLLsat) will be conducted in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). A key feature of QUOLLsat is the large on-board aperture to minimise the loss over the communication channel and enable provably secure CV-QKD. QUOLLsat will be used to demonstrate inter-continental CV-QKD. QUOLLsat will also be used to pave the way for a quantum memory-enabled network by performing the first storage of light from a satellite in an on-ground quantum memory.

If you're interested in learning more about/partnering with us on our Laser Communications Program please get in touch at inspace@anu.edu.au.