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China makes history with launch of quantum satellite

August 30, 2016

The world's first quantum communication satellite was launched by China on August 16.

Known as Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), the satellite is designed to establish "hack-proof" quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground.

Chinese scientists plan to test quantum key distribution between the satellite and ground stations, and conduct secure quantum communications between Beijing and northwestern China.

QUESS is also expected to provide insights into the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

It will beam entangled photons to two earth stations, 1,200 kilometers apart, in a move to test quantum entanglement over a greater distance, as well as test quantum teleportation between a ground station in Ali, Tibet, and itself.

"The newly-launched satellite marks a transition in China's role—from a follower in classic information technology (IT) development to one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements," commented Pan Jianwei, a quantum physicist and chief scientist of the QUESS project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

QUESS was powered into space on a Long March-2D rocket. During its two-year mission the 600-plus-kilogram satellite will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes after entering a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers.

Pan told Xinhua that his team plans to initiate new projects involving research on quantum control and light transmission in space stations, as well as tests on quantum communications between satellites, all-time quantum communications and the application of quantum key networks.

"If China is going to send more quantum communication satellites into orbit, we can expect a global network of quantum communications to be set up around 2030," he said.

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