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Caltech & JPL Launch Hybrid High Rate Quantum Communication Systems

Photo courtesy of NASA.

Caltech and JPL have been successful partners in space exploration since the mid-1930s. In their tradition of intermixing in unique ways fundamental science, technology and engineering they develop a collaborative multi-disciplinary cross-agency research program to advance and accelerate scalable hybrid quantum networking and communications technologies.

To support the increasing data bandwidth requirement of deep space exploration, NASA tasked JPL with implementing the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) project–a mission to establish a laser communication link over the <3 A.U. distance between the asteroid Psyche-16 and Earth [1]. Enabling this unprecedented application are Superconducting Nanowire Single Photon Detectors [2] (SNSPDs), a technology engineered jointly at JPL and NIST and further optimized and used at In-Q-Net’s [3] quantum network user facilities at Fermilab and Caltech (FQNET, CQNET).

JPL’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL) has reliably produced Bose-Einstein Condensates (BECs) in orbit on board the International Space Station on a daily basis since June 2018, leading to profound advances of our understanding of quantum processes in the microgravity environment [4]. In December 2019, the CAL-Upgrade Module was installed onboard the International Space Station. CAL-UM is the first atomic interferometer in orbit: major milestone is to demonstrate the utility and flight impact of quantum sensing technology through precision sensing of gravity and inertial forces and probing fundamental physics at large.

JPL’s Deep Space Atomic Clock [5] (DSAC), launched in June 2019, applies mercury-ion clock technology pioneered at JPL to precision time and frequency synthesis in space. Operating with greater stability and precision compared to GPS, DSAC is a pathfinder on quantum clock technologies improving spacecraft autonomous navigation, formation flying, and probing general relativity. On Earth, Caltech and JPL recently demonstrated novel clock technology using strontium atoms in an architecture that lends itself to enhanced performance via quantum entanglement [6].

These developments in space and ground based quantum technologies propel Caltech and JPL towards the next set of demonstators and pathfinders in the hybrid quantum networking frontier. As a first step Caltech and JPL have designed a practical, high rate high-fidelity quantum communication system over fiber and free space. The team is on track to deploy, commission and demonstrate both concepts, including a free-space, municipal quantum link between JPL and Caltech, in 2020-21. In the next phase the team plans to develop and implement FPGA-based, real-time quantum communications and use the adaptive optics system at JPL’s Table Mountain Facility (TMF) one meter telescope to optimize the communication rate–thereby qualifying TMF for future space-ground quantum links using small-sats & other platforms. This can be used to establish a space-based quantum optical connection between the Caltech-JPL quantum network and quantum networks in the midwest (Fermlab’s FQNET and IEQNET together with ANL), the south (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), the northeast (Lincoln Labs, BNL), the northwest (SLAC, LBNL) as well as other research nodes and potential industrial testbeds in development nationally and internationally. This effort, combined with Caltech’s quantum research ecosystem [7] and JPL’s successes in quantum flight and ground systems, will bolster NASA’s space exploration and fundamental science mission, NIST’s mission to establish precision time and frequency standards and DOE’s mission and strategic vision for America’s Quantum Networks [8].




[3] In-Q-Net is an accelerator research program of work founded in 2017 at Caltech with AT&T, Fermilab and member of of NIST’s QED-C consortium;




[7] https://iqim.caltech.eduhttp://www.kni.caltech.edu


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