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Towards quantum communication: Tel Aviv University's tiny satellite in space will communicate with the optical ground station

A few days ago, the TAU-SAT3 satellite was launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 launcher, designed to demonstrate optical and quantum communication from space using tiny satellites

The satellite launch team (counter-clockwise): Prof. Meir Ariel, Prof. Ofer Amrani, Orly Blumberg, Idan Finkelstein and Dr. Dolev Bashi. Photo: Tel Aviv University Spokesperson
The satellite launch team (counter-clockwise): Prof. Meir Ariel, Prof. Ofer Amrani, Orly Blumberg, Idan Finkelstein and Dr. Dolev Bashi. Photo: Tel Aviv University spokesperson

A technological achievement for Tel Aviv University: in less than two years, the university launched three satellites into space. The third satellite TAU-SAT3 was launched into space a few days ago, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. According to the researchers, the TAU-SAT3 satellite, developed at the Center for Nanosatellites At the Ivy and Alder Fleishman Faculty of Engineering, constitutes a scientific breakthrough and is intended to pave the way towards demonstrating optical and quantum communication from space using tiny satellites.

"Tel Aviv University is leading the effort in the State of Israel to create satellite communication channels based on optical and quantum technology. In order to transmit on a quantum communication channel over ranges of hundreds of kilometers or more, it is necessary to go into space. TAU-SAT3 is designed to pave the way towards a demonstration of quantum communication using a tiny quantum satellite that will be built in the future at Tel Aviv University"

Recover lost information in real time

TAU-SAT3 was launched this week to an altitude of 550 km and is expected to orbit the Earth for about five years. He carries on board, for the first time, blue-and-white batteries made by Epsilor, which will provide him with energy for his entire life in orbit. The satellite is designed to perform several scientific tasks, the main one of which is to communicate with the new and advanced optical ground station that was built on the roof of the Shenkar Physics Building. This is the first time in Israel, and one of the few times in the world, that an optical ground station will be able to lock onto, track and collect data from a tiny satellite whose size, as seen from Earth, is even smaller than the size of a single pixel. The researchers note that the technological significance is that in the future it will be possible to build miniaturized systems for optical communication, the cost of building and launching them into space is much lower than that of large satellites. Also, the satellite will perform experiments in satellite communication at very fast rates and in scenarios where the satellite communication channel is disrupted.

The first satellites studied cosmic radiation

"Tel Aviv University's first two satellites were launched in order to measure cosmic radiation in orbit around the Earth, and to test various measures to protect the satellite's electronic systems from the radiation. For this purpose, these satellites incorporated "dedicated payloads" built in partnership with various scientific bodies, including the Sorek Nuclear Research Center. The third satellite, TAU-SAT3, is the first to be designed, developed and built entirely within Tel Aviv University," explains Prof. Meir Ariel, head of the Center for Nanosatellites at Tel Aviv University. "TAU-SAT3 is a tiny satellite that is only about 20 cm in size and carries an optical device a few centimeters long. When the satellite passes over Israel, the device will shine at different wavelengths, with the goal that the telescope at the optical ground station will detect the tiny flash and be able to lock onto it and follow it. The satellite will communicate back with the Earth simultaneously in optical and radio communication, but when the optical device points to the optical ground station, the antenna will point in a different direction. Therefore, a significant part of the information may be lost. The innovation in this project is the ability of the communication systems installed on the satellite and the ground station to recover the lost information in real time using sophisticated signal processing algorithms developed by Tel Aviv University," he adds.

From the SpaceX launch video

"The principles of quantum mechanics enable a completely secure encryption method. As soon as a hostile party tries to eavesdrop on the transmitted message, the message fades away and you can tell about the eavesdropping attempt. This is in contrast to encryption using accepted methods which is exposed to eavesdropping and without knowledge of the existence of an eavesdropper. Indeed, the topic of immune quantum communication is at the forefront of research today. Governments and giant entities around the world are today in a race to obtain quantum encryption capabilities, mainly in view of the capabilities of quantum computers to crack the encryption algorithms that are in use today. This is a tremendous effort, both scientifically and technologically, as well as financially," adds Prof. Yaron Oz, head of the Center for Quantum Science and Technology at Tel Aviv University and former rector of the university and adds "it must be emphasized that beyond the encryption of security information, breaking the accepted encryption methods through quantum computing will expose all information, medical or financial, e-mail messages, WhatsApp and other information, therefore the quantum encryption has implications regarding the preservation of each person's privacy. Quantum communication is very sensitive to the medium in which it is transmitted, for example through optical fibers or transmission through the atmosphere. We hope that through TAU-SAT3 we will be able to communicate for the first time between the optical ground station and the satellite, something that will greatly advance us on the way to the scientific goal of demonstrating reliable quantum communication."

"The Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University is proud of the successful launch of the tiny satellite TAUSAT3. This is the third satellite we have launched in less than two years, and is the result of research and development by the Center for Nanosatellites at the Faculty of Engineering in collaboration with the Center for Quantum Science and Technology at the university. This satellite realizes several milestones on the way to achieving the goal of quantum communication from space through a tiny quantum satellite that will be built in the future at Tel Aviv University. Recently, we were the only ones in Israel to win the tender of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology to build and launch a fleet of satellites while making the new space field accessible and building nanosatellites for school students in the periphery. The Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University is currently the leader in Israel in this field and is a focal point for students, students, research centers and industry in this field," says Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Prof. Noam Eliez.

The satellite project and the ground station have many partners in the faculty of Tel Aviv University, including Prof. Ofer Amrani who served as the main researcher in the project, the head of the femto-nano research laboratory Prof. Haim Suchovsky, as well as the doctoral students and students who were engaged in the research and development of the satellite systems: Dr. Dolev Bashi, Idan Finkelstein, Michael Tzukran, Ofir Cohen, David Greenberg, Barak Levy, Alon Harmati, On Ranginged, Ofir Yaffe, Shahar Morg, Uri Dagan, Elad Sagi and Orli Blomberg.

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