An Israeli quantum communications satellite launched by Space X

A new nanosatellite developed by Tel Aviv University researchers was launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 space launch vehicle from Vandenberg Space Base, California, on Tuesday.

The 20-centimeter nanosatellite, dubbed TAU-SAT3, is Israel’s first satellite built to advance optical and quantum communication research from space and is an “important step towards demonstrating reliable quantum communication,” according to the researchers.

Quantum communication is a technological field that aims to allow the fast and secure transfer of files and data and that aims to make information security completely immune to unauthorized access in a world haunted by constant threats from hackers.

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Professor Yaron Oz, director of the Center for Quantum Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, pointed out that the emergence of quantum computers should allow “breaking current encryption algorithms” and exposing data such as personal medical and financial records, emails and messages. from WhatsApp.

Quantum computing exploits quantum mechanics to quickly solve problems too complex for classical computers, processing large amounts of data.

“The principles of quantum mechanics allow for an unconditionally secure encryption method,” said Prof. oz. “As soon as a hostile entity attempts to intercept a transmitted message, it immediately dissipates. »

Tel Aviv University research team tasked with developing Israel’s first nanosatellite to advance research on optical and quantum communication from space. (Credit: Tel Aviv University)

“Furthermore, the eavesdropping attempt is detected, unlike current encryption methods where eavesdropping remains undetectable,” added Prof. oz.

At an altitude of 550 kilometers, the TAU-SAT3 will orbit Earth for about five years to carry out various science missions while sending optical and radio communication signals back to an optical ground station installed on the roof of a building. University campus.

“It is the first optical ground station in Israel, and one of the few in the world, that can lock, track and collect data from a nanosatellite that, seen from the ground, is smaller than a pixel,” said Prof. Noam Eliaz, dean of the Fleischman College of Engineering at Tel Aviv University.

The TAU-SAT3, developed at the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering at Tel Aviv University, is equipped with an optical device just a few centimeters long and onboard batteries manufactured by the Israeli company Epsilor that will supply it with energy throughout its life in orbit.

“As the satellite passes over Israel, the device will emit light at different wavelengths, and the ground station’s optical telescope will identify the tiny flash, lock onto it and track it,” explained officer Prof. Eliaz. “However, when the optical device is facing the optical ground station, the antenna will point in a different direction. »

“As a result, a significant portion of data can be lost. The novelty of this project lies in the ability of the communication systems installed both on the nanosatellite and on the ground station to reconstruct the lost data in real time using intelligent signal processing algorithms developed at Tel Aviv University,” explained Prof. Eliaz.

The nanosatellite is one of a series of three satellites that Tel Aviv University has launched in less than three years, joining the global space revolution in which research is opening up to civilian institutions and businesses.

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