Military Embedded Systems

First daytime free-space quantum communication via adaptive optics demonstrated by AFRL


June 13, 2019

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

STARFIRE OPTICAL RANGE, NEW MEXICO. Daylight quantum communication was demonstrated by experts at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Starfire Optical Range (SOR) under conditions that are representative of space-to-Earth satellite links.

“This is the world’s first such demonstration, integrating quantum communication with a novel filtering technique enabled by adaptive optics (AO), a technology pioneered at the SOR,” says Dr. Kelly Hammett, director of the AFRL Directed Energy Directorate.

A compact AO system was designed by the AFRL team for this event to enable quantum communication through-the-air in daylight. Free-space quantum communication in the daytime has been challenging for scientists as it is often negatively impacted by background light.

In contrast to digital data which can be transmitted by radio waves, quantum information is carried by photons, individual particles of light. Transmitting individual photons over long distances and then detecting them against background light is key to exploiting the full potential of quantum technologies. Quantum communication will enable the networking of quantum computers for increased computing power with unprecedented security.

“The SOR field experiment is the first in a series designed to demonstrate various quantum communication protocols,” says Dr. Mark Gruneisen, principal investigator for quantum communication research at the SOR. Follow-on demonstrations will advance other quantum communication techniques, which will be equally enabled from AO technologies.

“The demonstration is an important advancement toward a future global-scale ‘quantum internet,” he adds. “Continued research and development by AFRL and others will bring new capabilities to the warfighter and mankind.”

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