Governments join forces for federated quantum encryption satellite network

TAMPA, Florida – The United States and five other countries are teaming up with the United Kingdom to develop a quantum technology encryption network via satellite.

The Federated Quantum System (FQS) will be based on the one British startup Arqit is developing for business customers, using quantum technological advances to guard against increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

But while this network sits on a managed services platform managed by Arqit, FQS will be shut down so as to allow interoperability between allied countries.

Fighter jets and other military units and command and control centers would be able to share communications more securely over a network controlled by sovereignty.

The governments of Japan, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Austria are also partners in the initiative, which includes companies from each country to design and test the system.

These business partners include UK telecommunications company BT, US aerospace giant Northrop Grumman, Japanese investment firm Sumitomo, Italian tech group Leonardo and Austrian quantum technology startup QTL.

The Canadian and Belgian subsidiaries of aerospace company Honeywell and defense technology company Qinetiq, respectively, also joined.

The cost of the project including an initial satellite in 2023 is expected to rise to more than $ 70 million, funded by the government and the consortium’s business partners.

They will also have the option of purchasing a dedicated version at a cost of around $ 250 million over 10 years.

Arqit is lining up Virgin Orbit to launch the first FQS satellites in 2023 from the UK, after putting a pair of spacecraft into orbit for its commercial counterpart that year.

Virgin Orbit, an aerial rocket start-up close to launching its first payload for commercial customers, had previously invested in Arqit as part of the quantum firm’s merger with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC).

Arqit plans to increase $ 400 million from this deal after it closed in the third quarter of this year.

The startup plans to make the first version of its QuantumCloud software available in July.

The software generates an unlimited number of encryption keys at the endpoint of customer devices and will rely on terrestrial communications until the launch of its satellites.

Arqit claims that using quantum computing technology for symmetric encryption is more secure than systems based on public key infrastructure (PKI), which is used to encrypt most communications around the world.

Another conflict?

It is not known what the European Union will do with the participation of Italy, Belgium and Austria in the FQS of Arqit.

All three countries – and all EU members except Ireland – have signed plans to develop a European quantum communications network called EuroQCI.

Airbus announced on May 31 that it had been awarded a contract from the European Commission to lead a consortium to study the quantum-powered network for Europe.

Leonardo is part of the 15-month study group, with the accounting firm PwC France and Maghreb, the French telecoms giant Orange and the Italian research council CNR and the meteorological institute NRiM.

Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo and the French aerospace group Thales, is also part of the group.

An EU official recently suggested that there might be a conflict of interest resulting from French satellite operator Eutelsat’s $ 500 million investment in OneWeb in April.

Eutelsat is part of a separate consortium that has been studying a new constellation of broadband satellites for the European Union since December.

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Travis Durham

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