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Israeli quantum communication nanosatellite launched into orbit by SpaceX rocket

The Tel Aviv University 20cm nanosatellite is designed to communicate from space with an optical ground station to help build a network for reliable quantum communication

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

The 20cm nanosatellite developed by Tel Aviv University. (Tel Aviv University)
The 20cm nanosatellite developed by Tel Aviv University. (Tel Aviv University)

A new nanosatellite developed by Tel Aviv University researchers was launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday.

The 20-centimeter (7.9-inch) nanosatellite, named TAU-SAT3, is the first Israeli satellite built to advance research into optical and quantum communication from space and an “important step towards demonstrating reliable quantum communication,” according to the researchers.

Quantum communication is a field of technology that seeks to enable the fast and secure transfer of communication for files and data and aims to make information security totally impervious to unauthorized access in a world haunted by constant hacking threats.

Prof. Yaron Oz, head of TAU’s Center for Quantum Science and Technology pointed out that as the emergence of quantum computers is expected to “crack today’s encryption algorithms,” exposing data such as personal medical and financial records, email and WhatsApp messages, governments around the world are investing millions in the research of “eavesdropping-proof quantum communication.”

Quantum computing harnesses quantum mechanics to quickly solve problems that are too complex for classical computers by processing vast amounts of data.

“The principles of quantum mechanics enable an unconditionally secure encryption method,” said Prof. Oz. “Whenever a hostile entity tries to intercept a transmitted message, the message immediately dissipates.”

Research team at Tel Aviv University develops the first Israeli nanosatellite to advance research into optical and quantum communication from space. (Tel Aviv University)

“Moreover, the interception attempt is detected – unlike current encryption methods, in which interceptions remain undetectable,” Prof. Oz added.

At an altitude of 550 kilometers (342 miles), the TAU-SAT3 will orbit the earth for about five years to conduct several scientific missions while sending optical and radio communication signals back to an optical ground station set up on the roof of a building at the TAU campus.

“This is the first optical ground station in Israel, and one of very few worldwide, that can lock onto, track, and collect data from a nanosatellite which, viewed from earth, is smaller than a single pixel,” stated Prof. Noam Eliaz, dean of the TAU’s Fleischman Faculty of Engineering.

TAU-SAT3, developed at TAU’s Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, is equipped with an optical device that is only a few centimeters long and it has on board batteries made by the Israeli company Epsilor that will provide it with energy for its entire life in orbit.

“When the satellite passes over Israel, the device will emit light at various wavelengths, and the telescope of the optical ground station will identify the tiny flash, lock onto it, and track it,” said Prof. Eliaz. “However, when the optical device turns toward the optical ground station, the antenna will face in a different direction.”

“As a result, a significant portion of the data might be lost. The novelty in this project is the ability of the communication systems installed in both the nanosatellite and the ground station to reconstruct the lost data in real time using smart signal processing algorithms developed at TAU,” Prof. Eliaz explained.

The nanosatellite is part of a series of three TAU has launched in less than three years, joining the global space revolution in which research is opening up to civilian institutions and companies.

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