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China’s orbiting quantum satellite links with ground stations

Initial results from the quantum satellite that China sent into space are encouraging, the project’s chief scientist said on Saturday.

A quantum channel had been well established between the ­satellite and ground stations, Pan Jianwei, the nation’s leading ­expert in quantum physics, said at a technology exhibition in Hong Kong.

China had been exploring the military and commercial applications of quantum technology, and successful tests of the satellite ­system would pave the way for the construction of large quantum communication networks, he said.

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Pan said his team had successfully passed photons, or particles of light, between the satellite and ground stations in Tibet and Xinjiang province.

But he declined to give any ­details about the timeline for the experiments to follow as he did not want to put pressure on other team members.

The plan is to eventually send a quantum cryptographic key via the satellite from Beijing to Vienna to demonstrate that the technology can be used for unhackable communication.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China would be one of the first outsiders to try the network, Pan said.

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Quantum communication is said to be hack-free because anyone who attempts to measure or clone particles will destroy their original quantum states.

The quantum satellite, named after ancient philosopher and scientist Micius, was launched in August with a mission to establish a secure communication line between China and Europe.

More than 2,400 years ago, Micius ­proposed that light always travelled in a straight line and that the physical world was made up by particles.

Robert Bedington, a scientist at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, said China’s progress was an encouraging sign for the industry.

“The satellite has got many space companies in the world interested in building quantum networks,” Bedington said.

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But Chinese scientists still faced many challenges, including preventing the signals carried by photons from getting lost in the journey through the atmosphere, he said.

Pan said his team was still working on how to protect the photons from the interference of daylight – currently they only ­performed their experiments at night.

China is not the only country trying to blaze a trail in quantum communication and improve data security.

A team in Singapore, which ­includes Bedington, is planning to launch devices into space that can entangle photons and build a fibre-optic communication ­network in the city state.

The state-backed Centre for Quantum Technologies is hosted by the National University of ­Singapore.