Since the first quantum revolution in the early twentieth century, a whole range of applications in the field of scientific research but also in our daily life has emerged; laser, electronics, satellite-based positioning, medical imagery, etc.
The second quantum revolution is now underway. The satellite-based services as well as the EU space programmes must seize this opportunity and make the best and most strategic use of quantum technologies to improve the daily life and security of EU citizens.
Today, critical infrastructures and sensitive communications and data are vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other security threats. In addition, advances in mathematical algorithms and supercomputing and the advent of quantum computing may soon undermine current encryption systems. In response to this, a number of completely novel cryptographic techniques based on quantum fundamental physical laws, have significant potential to protect the EU’s sensitive data and digital infrastructure.
In this context, the Commission is anticipating the future challenges and potential strategic dependencies over the next 20 to 30 years. The Commission will reduce technological dependencies in the EU and reinforce the resilience of the quantum value chains, including in support of space. It promotes the development of quantum technologies for space applications in the fields of secure communication, time and frequency services, Earth sensing and observation as well as the use of quantum computing for space data processing and mission planning.
Quantum Secure Communication in Space
Developing and deploying a Quantum Communication Infrastructure (QCI) with a terrestrial and space segment represents one of the priorities towards which the European Commission is working on, to project Europe into the quantum era. The Quantum initiative “EuroQCI” intends to mature the new technologies, perform the qualification for space. The EU aims to ensure ultra-secure, quantum encrypted, space-based communication between government institutions and critical infrastructures across the Union. Therefore, the definition of the use cases and related QCI infrastructure, the R&D support to mature the technologies as well as the definition and the launch of the testbeds are important steps towards the deployment of the QCI.
EuroQCI will include a terrestrial segment relying on fiber communications networks linking strategic sites at national and cross-border level, and a space segment based on satellites. It will link national quantum communication networks across the EU, including its overseas territories. Developing the technologies needed to make the EuroQCI a reality will serve to boost Europe’s scientific and technological capabilities in cybersecurity and quantum technologies. It will also improve Europe’s digital sovereignty and industrial competitiveness.
All 27 EU Member States have committed to working together alongside the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the EuroQCI. Current funding instruments for EuroQCI include the Digital Europe programme and the Connecting Europe Facility, as well as Horizon Europe, ESA, and national funds, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
EuroQCI will be integrated in the proposed Secure Connectivity Programme.
Quantum Sensing in Space
The development of enhanced space-based climate data and environmental processes modelling combined with quantum technologies can reinforce the ability of Europe to better assess and predict climate change and future disasters. The satellite gravity missions provide unique observations, not available by other Earth Observation missions. The study of global mass transport phenomena via gravity field monitoring from satellite gravimetry provides important insights and crucial information to understand and monitor i.e., climate change, hydro- and cryosphere evolution, groundwater, early warning of hydrological extremes, monitoring of geo-hazards.
Quantum sensors are a promising technology, in particular when deployed in space, for improved spatiotemporal sampling, short latency and better data quality. Quantum gravimetry data complementary to ground-based in-situ and other satellite data – such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), altimetry, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, gauge data (water level and river discharge) – is expected to enhance the gravity field monitoring and the simulations of Earth geophysical systems and models. This is why the Commission is preparing the ground for the deployment of a future EU Earth observation mission making use of quantum gravimetry. As first step of this pathfinder mission, the Commission is currently working on the development of EU technologies and components for a space quantum gravimeter or gradiometer.
Current funding tools include Horizon Europe and European Innovation Council programmes.
Other space quantum related activities in the Commission
JRC reports assessing quantum in and for space:
Quantum physics has fascinating properties, which reveal a world very different from ordinary human perception. For example, a particle can behave more like a wave, or even two waves at once “superposed”. Their peaks and troughs can overlap or cancel out, depending on the forces and accelerations the atom is subject to. This “atom interferometry” can be used to make highly sensitive gravity detectors, accelerometers and gyroscopes. The JRC reports describe the physical principles and how they can be applied to practical problems, such as mapping the Earth’s gravity field and inertial navigation. This technology is likely to affect public policy for security, environment and climate, as well as economic development.
- Cold Atom Interferometry for Inertial Navigation Sensors: Technology assessment for space and defence applications , EUR30492, 2020
- Cold Atom Interferometry_Physics and Technologies, EUR30289, 2020
- Cold Atom Interferometry_for Earth Observation, Perspectives for satellite-based quantum gravimetry , EUR30371, 2020
The best established of all quantum technologies is the atomic clock, which constitutes the basis of the international standard time system and enables satellite-based navigation systems such as Galileo. Clock technology is advancing and new possibilities may emerge to improve accuracy, reliability and cost effectiveness: in particular, chip-scale atomic clocks with reduced cost, size, weight and power could make possible a wider deployment of atomic clocks in space, in line with the present trend toward large constellations of low-cost satellites.
- Chip-scale atomic clocks: Physics, technologies and applications, EUR30790, 2021
- EU funded research project Quango