Quantum Experiments at Space Scale

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Quantum Experiments at Space Scale
NamesQuantum Space Satellite
Micius / Mozi
Mission typeTechnology demonstrator
OperatorChinese Academy of Science
COSPAR ID2016-051A[1]
SATCAT no.41731Edit this on Wikidata
Mission duration2 years (planned)
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerChinese Academy of Science
BOL mass631 kg (1,391 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date17:40 UTC, 16 August 2016[2]
RocketLong March 2D
Launch siteJiuquan LA-4
ContractorShanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology
Orbital parameters
Perigee altitude488 km (303 mi)[2]
Apogee altitude584 km (363 mi)[2]
Inclination97.4 degrees[2]
Sagnac interferometer

Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS; Chinese: 量子科学实验卫星; pinyin: Liàngzǐ kēxué shíyàn wèixīng; lit. 'Quantum Science Experiment Satellite'), is a Chinese research project in the field of quantum physics.

Tiangong-2 is China's second Space Laboratory module which was launched on 15 Sep 2016. Tiangong-2 carries a total of 14 mission[4] and experiment packages, including Space-Earth quantum key distribution (Chinese: 量子密钥分发) and laser communications experiment to facilitate space-to-ground quantum communication.[5]

A satellite, nicknamed Micius or Mozi (Chinese: 墨子) after the ancient Chinese philosopher and scientist, is operated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as ground stations in China. The University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences are running the satellite's European receiving stations.[6][7]

QUESS is a proof-of-concept mission designed to facilitate quantum optics experiments over long distances to allow the development of quantum encryption and quantum teleportation technology.[7] Quantum encryption uses the principle of entanglement to facilitate communication that can absolutely detect whether a third party has intercepted a message in transit thus denying undetected decryption. By producing pairs of entangled photons, QUESS will allow ground stations separated by many thousands of kilometres to establish secure quantum channels.[3] QUESS itself has limited communication capabilities: it needs line-of-sight, and can only operate when not in sunlight.[8]

Further Micius satellites were planned, including a European–Asian quantum-encrypted network by 2020,[needs update] and a global network by 2030.[8][9]

The mission cost was around US$100 million in total.[2]


Quantum Experiments at Space Scale is located in Asia
Ground stations

The initial experiment demonstrated quantum key distribution (QKD) between Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory near Ürümqi and Xinglong Observatory near Beijing – a great-circle distance of approximately 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi).[3] In addition, QUESS tested Bell's inequality at a distance of 1,200 km (750 mi) – further than any experiment to date – and teleported a photon state between Shiquanhe Observatory in Ali, Tibet Autonomous Region, and the satellite.[3] This requires very accurate orbital maneuvering and satellite tracking so the base stations can keep line-of-sight with the craft.[3][10]

Once experiments within China concluded, QUESS created an international QKD channel between China and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Vienna, Austria − a ground distance of 7,500 km (4,700 mi), enabling the first intercontinental secure quantum video call in 2016.[3][6]


The launch was initially scheduled for July 2016, but was rescheduled to August, with notification of the launch being sent just a few days in advance.[11] The spacecraft was launched by a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan Launch Pad 603, Launch Area 4 on 17 August 2016, at 17:40 UTC (01:40 local time).[2]

Multi-payload mission[edit]

The launch was a multi-payload mission shared with QUESS, LiXing-1 research satellite, and ³Cat-2 Spanish science satellite.

  • LiXing-1: LiXing-1 is a Chinese satellite designed to measure upper atmospheric density by lowering its orbit to 100–150 km. Its mass is 110 kg. On 19 August 2016, the satellite reentered into the atmosphere, so the mission is closed.
  • ³Cat-2: The 3Cat-2 (spelled "cube-cat-two") is the second satellite in the 3Cat series and the second satellite developed in Catalonia at Polytechnic University of Catalonia’s NanoSat Lab. It is a 6-Unit CubeSat flying a novel GNSS Reflectometer (GNSS-R) payload for Earth observation. Its mass is 7.1 kg.

Secure key distribution[edit]

The main instrument on board QUESS is a "Sagnac effect" interferometer.[3] This is a device which generates pairs of entangled photons, allowing one of each to be transmitted to the ground. This will allow QUESS to perform Quantum key distribution (QKD) – the transmission of a secure cryptographic key that can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages – to two ground stations. QKD theoretically offers truly secure communication. In QKD, two parties who want to communicate share a random secret key transmitted using pairs of entangled photons sent with random polarization, with each party receiving one half of the pair. This secret key can then be used as a one-time pad, allowing the two parties to communicate securely through normal channels. Any attempt to eavesdrop on the key will disturb the entangled state in a detectable way.[9] QKD has been attempted on Earth, both with direct line-of-sight between two observatories, and using fibre optic cables to transmit the photons. However, fibre optics and the atmosphere both cause scattering which destroys the entangled state, and this limits the distance over which QKD can be carried out. Sending the keys from an orbiting satellite results in less scattering, which allows QKD to be performed over much greater distances.[3]

In addition, QUESS tests some of the basic foundations of quantum mechanics. Bell's theorem says that no local hidden variable theory can ever reproduce the predictions of quantum physics, and QUESS will be able to test the principle of locality over 1,200 km (750 mi).[3]


QUESS lead scientist Pan Jianwei told Reuters that the project has "enormous prospects" in the defence sphere.[12] The satellite will provide secure communications between Beijing and Ürümqi, capital of Xinjiang, the remote western region of China.[12] The US Department of Defense believes China is aiming to achieve the capability to counter the use of enemy space technology.[12] Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping has prioritised China's space program, which has included anti-satellite missile tests, and the New York Times noted that quantum technology was a focus of the thirteenth five-year plan, which the China government set out earlier that year.[13] The Wall Street Journal said that the launch put China ahead of rivals, and brought them closer to "hack-proof communications".[14] Several outlets identified Edward Snowden's leak of US surveillance documents as an impetus for the development of QUESS, with Popular Science calling it "a satellite for the post-Snowden age".[10][15][16]

Similar projects[edit]

QUESS is the first spacecraft launched capable of generating entangled photons in space,[7] although transmission of single photons via satellites has previously been demonstrated by reflecting photons generated at ground-based stations off orbiting satellites.[17] While not generating fully entangled photons, correlated pairs of photons have been produced in space using a cubesat by the National University of Singapore and the University of Strathclyde.[17] A German consortium has performed quantum measurements of optical signals from the geostationary Alphasat Laser Communication Terminal.[18] The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Quiness macroscopic quantum communications project to catalyze the development of an end-to-end global quantum internet in 2012.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "QSS (Mozi)". space.skyrocket.de. Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "QUESS launched from the cosmodrome on Gobi desert". Spaceflights.news. 17 August 2016. Archived from the original on 17 June 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lin Xing (16 August 2016). "China launches world's first quantum science satellite". Physics World. Institute of Physics. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  4. ^ "Tiangong2". chinaspacereport.com. China Space Report. 28 April 2017. Retrieved 12 Nov 2017.
  5. ^ huaxia (16 September 2016). "Tiangong-2 takes China one step closer to space station". chinaspacereport. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  6. ^ a b "First Quantum Satellite Successfully Launched". Austrian Academy of Sciences. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Wall, Mike (16 August 2016). "China Launches Pioneering 'Hack-Proof' Quantum-Communications Satellite". Space.com. Purch. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  8. ^ a b huaxia (16 August 2016). "China Focus: China's space satellites make quantum leap". Xinhua. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  9. ^ a b Jeffrey Lin; P.W. Singer; John Costello (3 March 2016). "China's Quantum Satellite Could Change Cryptography Forever". Popular Science. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  10. ^ a b "China's launch of quantum satellite major step in space race". Associated Press. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  11. ^ Tomasz Nowakowski (16 August 2016). "China launches world's first quantum communications satellite into space". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "China launches 'hack-proof' communications satellite". Reuters. 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  13. ^ Edward Wong (16 August 2016). "China Launches Quantum Satellite in Bid to Pioneer Secure Communications". New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  14. ^ Josh Chin (16 August 2016). "China's Latest Leap Forward Isn't Just Great—It's Quantum". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  15. ^ Jeffrey Lin; P.W. Singer (17 August 2016). "China Launches Quantum Satellite In Search Of Unhackable Communications". Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  16. ^ Lucy Hornby, Clive Cookson (16 August 2016). "China launches quantum satellite in battle against hackers". Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  17. ^ a b Elizabeth Gibney (27 July 2016). "Chinese satellite is one giant step for the quantum internet". Nature. 535 (7613): 478–479. Bibcode:2016Natur.535..478G. doi:10.1038/535478a. PMID 27466107.
  18. ^ Günthner, Kevin; Khan, Imran; Elser, Dominique; Stiller, Birgit; Bayraktar, Ömer; Müller, Christian R; Saucke, Karen; Tröndle, Daniel; Heine, Frank; Seel, Stefan; Greulich, Peter; Zech, Herwig; Gütlich, Björn; Philipp-May, Sabine; Marquardt, Christoph; Leuchs, Gerd (2016). "Quantum-limited measurements of optical signals from a geostationary satellite". arXiv:1608.03511 [quant-ph].

External links[edit]