As soon as you say the words “hack-proof satellite” you know that some veteran hackers are going to get together and try to prove you wrong. But, at least for a few years, the assertion from the Chinese that their communication satellite is unhackable may be right.
In an effort to help develop an unhackable communications system, China launched the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) spacecraft from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert Monday, August 16, 2016. The satellite is nicknamed “Micius,” after a Chinese scientist who conducted groundbreaking optical experiments in the 5th century B.C. “Just like [NASA’s] Galileo [Jupiter probe] and Kepler [space] telescope, we used the name of a famous scholar for our first quantum satellite,” said QUESS project chief scientist Pan Jianwei. “We hope this will promote and boost confidence in Chinese culture.” The 1,320-lb. (600 kilograms) QUESS satellite is designed to circle Earth at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers), completing one lap every 90 minutes.
“In its two-year mission, QUESS is designed to establish ‘hack-proof’ quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground, and provide insights into the strangest phenomenon in quantum physics —quantum entanglement,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported. “Entangled” particles are intimately and curiously linked to each other; even if they’re separated by billions of miles of space; a change in one somehow affects the others. QUESS will send messages to ground stations using entangled photons. Such a system is theoretically impossible to hack. In addition, any attempts to eavesdrop would be picked up via an induced change in the photons’ state.
QUESS will also test out quantum teleportation, beaming precise information about the states of particles from the satellite to a ground station in Tibet. According to this theory, two particles become “entangled” when they interact. However, any subsequent interaction with one impacts, instantaneously and regardless of distances between them, on both particles. “It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it.”
“The newly launched satellite marks a transition in China’s role – from a follower in classic information technology (IT) development to one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements,” Jianwei explained.