23-25 MAY 2017


MICIUS: the world’s first quantum satellite to be hacker-proof

MICIUS: the world’s first quantum satellite to be hacker-proof

The world’s first quantum satellite launched by China in 2016 has already begun operations, the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported. Launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, this satellite of more than 600 kilos was nicknamed Micius in honor of the 5th century BC scientist and Chinese philosopher, considered the pioneer in optical experiments. Likewise, the official name of the satellite that heads this ambitious two-year mission is Quantum Space-Scale Experiments (QUESS, for its acronym in English).

The MICIUS project

The project represents a revolutionary technology in communication in the military, government and finance fields. That is why it is closely followed not only by the scientific community, but also by the security and espionage agencies of the world.

It is also one of the strategic priority programs of China’s National Center for Space Science, which plans to build a quantum key distribution network between Asia and Europe by 2020 and a global network of quantum communications by 2030.

How does the quantum satellite work?

One of the main problems of  encrypted communications is how to distribute access keys to information without suffering any interception or hacking.

MICIUS seeks to solve it by applying concepts of quantum physics that were described by Albert Einstein himself.

Once in space, QUESS is going to launch pairs of so-called quantum entangled photons, that is, smaller particles of light than atoms, whose properties depend on each other.

One unit of this pair will travel to one station in China and another to Austria, which also collaborates with the project. These photons will contain the encryption keys needed to decode certain information.

The curious thing about entwined photons is that even if they are separated, if a photon is affected, its twin changes in the same way immediately, no matter how far away from each other.

This means that if a hacker intercepts one of the interlocking photons, the other will know. The encryption key, then, will change and the information it accesses will self-destruct. That is why this communication is said to be hacker-proof.

With the increasing danger of cyberspace by countries and organizations, the possibility of creating a new generation of secure communications is vital.

Research has shown that it is virtually impossible to hack, decrypt, intercept or make wiretaps in quantum communications, because of their physical characteristics cannot be replicated, separated or obtain information from the transmitting or receiving equipment.

In addition, any attempt to interfere with the transmission will leave a mark that can be easily identified and communication will be immediately interrupted.

The first data set of the world’s first quantum satellite was received by Chinese scientists; the 202 megawatts of data received are of good quality and were transferred to China’s National Center for Space Science. Apart from the receiving station in Miyun, a station in Kashgar, northwest China, and one in Sanya, in the south of the country, will also be tracked and received in the future.