January 23, 2023 – Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) to lead the TeQuantS1 project aimed at developing quantum space-to-Earth communications technologies. This contract, part of ESA’s ARTES 4.0 Core Competitiveness programme element2, is supported by French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) and Austrian space agency ALR.
The TeQuantS project intends to develop quantum technologies for cybersecurity applications and future quantum information networks. These technologies will enable Thales Alenia Space and its partners to build satellites and optical ground stations by the end of 2026. TeQuantS will thus help to demonstrate the performance of long-distance quantum satellite links.
Satellites are today viewed as the best bet for long-distance quantum communications, as ground-based fiber-optic links directly transmitting quantum information are limited to a range of about 150 kilometers.
The main cybersecurity challenge is to generate secure cryptographic keys using the quantum properties of light and distribute them to users anywhere in the world. This capability is a response to the threat of quantum computers potentially able to crack cryptographic keys now in daily use.
The key challenge for quantum information networks is to enable future quantum computers and sensors to talk to each other and fulfill their promised exponential gains in performance.
Quantum communications are currently the focus of major research and development programs, notably the EuroQCI project in Europe.
The TeQuantS project led by Thales Alenia Space will draw on the expertise of a consortium composed of fellow prime Airbus Defence and Space, seven smaller firms and startups (ALPAO, AUREA Technology, BERTIN Technologies, MIRATLAS, OGS Technologies, QTlabs and SIGMAWORKS), and two research laboratories (LIP6 – Sorbonne University and INPHYNI – Côte d’Azur University/CNRS). The project partners will be innovating together to advance quantum communications in pursuit of Europe’s objectives.
Since 2018, Thales Alenia Space has been rolling out its roadmap to develop mature end-to-end quantum communications, notably through projects initiated by the European Commission (OPENQKD, QSAFE) and ESA (SAGA). With this roadmap, fully aligned with that of the TeQuantS project, Thales Alenia Space is focusing not only on satellites but also on ground stations and complete mission segments, leveraging its longstanding expertise as a telecommunications systems integrator and developer of optical terminals, and drawing on Thales’s two decades of experience in quantum communications.
Javier Benedicto, Acting Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “Supporting European autonomy, leadership and responsibility in today’s digital world is becoming increasingly important. We are proud to be working with the consortium led by Thales Alenia Space to ensure that European citizens will continue to benefit from space-based secure connectivity in everyday life on Earth.”
“We’re delighted to be working with our partners to develop quantum technologies that will demonstrate the ability to establish operational long-distance satellite quantum communications links and support Europe’s sovereignty in this area,” said Marc-Henri Serre, Thales Alenia Space Executive Vice President, Telecommunications. “We thank ESA, CNES and the Austrian Space Agency for their vital support on this project, which is addressing future cybersecurity and quantum information network challenges.”
1 Technological development for space-based Quantum reSource distribution
2 ESA’s ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) Core Competitiveness programme element is dedicated to the development, verification and demonstration of technologies and products for the satellite telecommunications market: https://artes.esa.int/core-competitiveness
About the TeQuantS consortium members & expertise
THALES ALENIA SPACE : Quantum systems
AIRBUS DEFENCE & SPACE: Quantum systems
ALPAO: Adaptive optics
AUREA Technology: Quantum equipment and components
BERTIN Technologies: Optomechanical systems
MIRATLAS: Atmospheric channel metrology
OGS Technologies: Optical ground stations
QTLabs: Quantum key distribution
SIGMAWORKS: Quantum channel synchronization
LIP6– Sorbonne University: Quantum systems
INPHYNI– Côte d’Azur University/CNRS: Quantum systems
About Thales Alenia Space
Drawing on over 40 years of experience and a unique combination of skills, expertise and cultures, Thales Alenia Space delivers cost-effective solutions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, environmental management, exploration, science and orbital infrastructures. Governments and private industry alike count on Thales Alenia Space to design satellite-based systems that provide anytime, anywhere connections and positioning, monitor our planet, enhance management of its resources, and explore our Solar System and beyond. Thales Alenia Space sees space as a new horizon, helping build a better, more sustainable life on Earth. A joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services. Thales Alenia Space posted consolidated revenues of approximately €2.15 billion in 2021 and has around 8,000 employees in 10 countries with 17 sites in Europe and a plant in the US.