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World first: China’s ‘unhackable’ communications system

China has launched what it says is the world’s first quantum satellite from the Gobi Desert on Tuesday. If successful, it will allow for global hack-proof communications.

During its two-year mission, the QUESS satellite will establish “hack-proof” quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground.

Quantum technology uses photons to transmit encrypted messages. This form of encryption is secured against any kind of computing power because the information encoded in a quantum particle is changed as soon as it is measured, which means it cannot be cloned. This in turn makes it impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it.

QUESS will utilise high-speed coherent lasers to connect with base stations 1,200km apart, in order to test long-distance communications. There have been past experiments looking to achieve this, however they struggled with the loss of photons in transmission and therefore quantum communications could only be achieved over a short distance (no more than 500km).

If successful, the QUESS project could result in the establishment of a ground-to-satellite quantum communication system, enabling global scale quantum communications.

“This newly-launched satellite marks a transition in China’s role – from a follower in classic information technology development to one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements,” said Pan Jianwei, chief scientist of the project, in a comment to Xinhuanet.

Pan believes that if more quantum satellites are sent into orbit, the global quantum communications network will be established in the next 15 years.

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