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IPFS News Link • Communications

Europe plans to launch a quantum encryption satellite for ultrasecure communications in 2024

•, By Andrew Jones

Europe is aiming to launch a technology demonstration satellite for secure, quantum-encrypted communications in 2024, with a view to developing a larger constellation.

The satellite, Eagle-1, will be the first space-based quantum key distribution (QKD) system for the European Union and could lead to an ultrasecure communications network for Europe, according to a statement from the European Space Agency (ESA).

Eagle-1 will spend three years in orbit testing the technologies needed for a new generation of secure communications. The satellite will demonstrate the "feasibility of quantum key distribution technology — which uses the principles of quantum mechanics to distribute encryption keys in such a way that any attempt to eavesdrop is immediately detected — within the EU using a satellite-based system," according to ESA.

ESA formally signed the contract for Eagle-1 with project leader SES during the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris in late September. The Luxembourg-based company will lead a consortium of more than 20 European companies to develop Eagle-1. 

Eagle-1 is a small, low Earth orbit satellite, but "it's quite significant, at around 300 kilograms [660 pounds] … and what is important is that it is a very efficient satellite," Elodie Viau, director of telecommunications and integrated applications at ESA, said at a news conference at IAC.

The Eagle-1 satellite platform will be provided by Italian company SITAEL. It will carry a quantum-key payload built by Germany-based Tesat Spacecom and will be operated by SES. Companies from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Switzerland are also involved in the project.