Quantum communication is a prime space technology application and offers near-term possibilities for long-distance quantum key distribution (QKD) and experimental tests of quantum entanglement. However, there exists considerable developmental risks and subsequent costs and time required to raise the technological readiness level of terrestrial quantum technologies and to adapt them for space operations. The small-space revolution is a promising route by which synergistic advances in miniaturization of both satellite systems and quantum technologies can be combined to leap-frog conventional space systems development. Here, we outline a recent proposal to perform orbit-to-ground transmission of entanglement and QKD using a CubeSat platform deployed from the International Space Station (ISS). This ambitious mission exploits advances in nanosatellite attitude determination and control systems (ADCS), miniaturised target acquisition and tracking sensors, compact and robust sources of single and entangled photons, and high-speed classical communications systems, all to be incorporated within a 10 kg 6 litre mass-volume envelope. The CubeSat Quantum Communications Mission (CQuCoM) would be a pathfinder for advanced nanosatellite payloads and operations, and would establish the basis for a constellation of low-Earth orbit trusted-nodes for QKD service provision.
- quantum key distribution
- orbit-to-ground transmission
- International Space Station
- attitude determination and control systems
- low-Earth orbit