Quantum internet promises ultra-secure, next-generation communications, but is it actually feasible on a global scale?
Absolutely, according to a new experiment carried out between satellites in orbit and a station on the ground.
The team of scientists was able to exchange several carefully managed photons in pulses of infrared light, carried between Russian GLONASS satellites and the Space Geodesy Centre on the ground run by the Italian Space Agency.
Getting these signals to pass through some 20,000 kilometres (12,427 miles) of air and space without any interference or data loss is no easy task – but the signs are promising that such a global network could indeed be functional.
“Space quantum communications (QC) represent a promising way to guarantee unconditional security for satellite-to-ground and inter-satellite optical links, by using quantum information protocols as quantum key distribution (QKD),” says one of the researchers, Giuseppe Vallone from the University of Padova in Italy.
The quantum key distribution or QKD method Vallone mentions refers to data encrypted using the power of quantum mechanics: thanks to the delicate nature of the technology, any interference is quickly detected, making QKD communications impossible to intercept.
In fact, hacking into a quantum mechanics message would cause it to self-destruct.
So far so good in theory, but keeping these secure channels open across long distances has proved tricky.