’s many high-tech scientific endeavors, including
its ambitious space program, have enormous backing from the central government.
The country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, an economic blueprint that was announced in
March, listed quantum technology as a focal point for research and development.] China
By Edward Wong
A rocket with the world’s first quantum communications satellite lifting off from
via Associated Press
Researchers hope to use the satellite to beam communications from space to earth with quantum technology, which employs photons, or particles of light. That type of communication could prove to be the most secure in the world, invulnerable to hacking. Scientists and security experts in many countries are studying the technology.
The satellite is expected to circle the earth every 90 minutes after entering orbit at an altitude of about 310 miles, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency. The rocket carrying the satellite took off in darkness early Tuesday from the desert around Jiuquan in
, a major site for satellite launches. Gansu Province
Traditional communications satellites send signals using radio waves. But a quantum communication satellite uses a crystal that produces a pair ofentangled photons whose properties remain entwined even as one is transmitted a large distance. Messages could be sent by manipulating these properties.
An article about the Chinese program that the journal Nature published in July said that any tinkering with quantum communications would be detectable, which is why the method is secure. “Two parties can communicate secretly,” the article said, and could be “safe in the knowledge that any eavesdropping would leave its mark.”
succeeds in its satellite launch, the
article said, that could mean many more such Chinese satellites in orbit, “which
will together create a super-secure communications network, potentially linking
people anywhere in the world.” China
“But groups from
, Canada , Japan and Italy also have plans for quantum space
experiments,” the article said. Singapore
While the communication will be unbreakable, the data transmission rate will also, at least at first, be glacial, more akin to the telegraph than to the internet.
The Chinese researchers hope to use the satellite and quantum communications to establish secure transmissions between two ground sites. In theory, the satellite can provide the connection between the sites. The first major link in
would be between China and Beijing , and that may open in the second half of
this year, according to Xinhua. Shanghai
The satellite, which weighs more than 1,300 pounds, is called Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, or Quess. It is nicknamed Micius, after a Chinese philosopher and scientist who lived in the fifth century B.C.
Pan Jianwei, the chief scientist of the quantum satellite project, told Xinhua earlier that the overall project involved building four ground stations for quantum communication and one station in space for experimental quantum teleportation. Such teleportation involves entangling two photons so that a change in one would instantly affect the other in a predictable way.
Mr. Pan studied at the
in University of Innsbruck in the 1990s and was later based at the Austria , a pioneering institution in quantum
research, according to a report in The Paper, a Chinese news outlet. Mr. Pan’s
doctoral adviser, Anton Zeilinger, is collaborating with him on the Chinese
project. Dr. Zeilinger worked for many years on similar initiatives, lobbying
for support from European governments. University of Vienna
A 2012 article in Nature said Mr. Pan was only in his early 30s when, in 2001, he set up
’s first laboratory for manipulating the
quantum properties of photons. In 2011, at 41, he was the youngest researcher
ever to be inducted into the China of Sciences. Chinese Academy
Mr. Pan was given the platform and support he wanted from the Chinese government after he returned there in 2001 from
. “The lucky thing was that, in 2000, the
economy of Austria started to grow, so the timing was suddenly
right to do good science,” Nature quoted him as saying. China
Follow Edward Wong on Twitter @comradewong.
Kenneth Chang contributed reporting from
. Karoline Kan contributed research from New York . Beijing