China has launched the world's first quantum satellite, which will help it establish "hack-proof" communications between space and the ground, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The satellite was launched from the Jiuquan space centre in Gansu province in northwest China early on Tuesday morning, state media reported. The Micius launch will enable Chinese researchers to test communication over much greater distances, with the new satellite attempting to communicate with ground stations in Beijing and Vienna.
"If the new satellite operates well, China will follow up with projects Micius-2 and Micius-3", said QUESS chief scientist Pan Jianwei.
China sent a dark matter probe into orbit in December 2015, becoming the country's first dedicated space-based astrophysics observatory.
US federal funding for quantum research is about $200 million a year, according to a congressional report in July by a group of science, defense, intelligence and other officials. "The Europeans, the Americans had the lead, but now the Chinese are showing the way forward". The launch from Jiuquan occurred at 1:40 a.m. Tuesday, Beijing time.
An accurate transmission of photons between the "server" and the "receiver" is never easy to make, as the optic axis of the satellite must point precisely toward those of the telescopes in ground stations, said Zhu Zhencai, QUESS chief designer.
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This figure compares with the $200 million the USA government allots to quantum research. "You're trying to send a beam of light from a satellite that's 500 kilometers (310 miles) above you".
QUESS will be the world's first quantum communications satellite, but other countries have plans of their own, having recognized the possibilities for encryption.
"There's been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race", said quantum physicist Nicolas Gisin, from the University of Geneva. China hopes that if the satellite works well, it will pave the way for a hack-proof communication system.
A Chinese satellite launched Tuesday will test the viability of data links that can not be eavesdropped on and has the potential to revolutionize defense communications.
The mind-bending science behind this technology relies on a quantum concept called "entanglement", something Albert Einstein once described as "spooky action at a distance". It is mainly used to launch a variety of satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO).
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