Quantum cryptography for secure satellite communications

R. J. Hughes, W. T. Buttler, P. G. Kwiat, S. K. Lamoreaux, G. L. Morgan, J. E. Nordholt, C. G. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Quantum cryptography is an emerging technology in which two parties may simultaneously generate shared, secret cryptographic key material using the transmissions of quantum states of light. The security of these transmissions is based on the inviolability of the laws of quantum mechanics and information-theoretically secure post-processing methods. An adversary can neither successfully tap the quantum transmissions, nor evade detection, owing to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In this paper we describe the theory of quantum cryptography, and recent results from our experimental free-space system with which we have demonstrated the feasibility of quantum key generation over a point-to-point outdoor atmospheric path in daylight. We achieved a transmission distance of 0.5 km, which was limited only by the length of the test range. Our results provide strong evidence that cryptographic key material could be generated on demand between a ground station and a satellite (or between two satellites), allowing a satellite to be securely re-keyed on orbit for encrypting the uplinked command path and downlinked data path; or to distribute keys between widely-separated ground stations with a satellite relay, enabling encrypted communications over even inter-continental distances. We present a feasibility analysis of surface-to-satellite quantum key generation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-200
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes
Event2000 IEEE Aerospace Conference - Big Sky, MT, United States
Duration: Mar 18 2000Mar 25 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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