Air-to-ground quantum communication

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S. Nauerth, F. Moll, M. Rau, C. Fuchs, J. Horwath, S. Frick and H. Weinfurter
Nature Photonics 7, 382–386 (2013)

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is the first commercial application in the field of quantum information science, with the first routine applications in government and financial sectors and with successful demonstrations of trusted node networks. Today, the main goal is efficient long-range key distribution via either a network structure called 'quantum repeaters' or via satellite, with a view to enabling global secure communication.

In order to achieve QKD via satellites a demonstration has already been performed between two ground stations, over the large distance of 144 km. This scenario is comparable to satellites in some aspects, however the key challenge of performing QKD between fast moving platforms until now remained to be demonstrated.

In their work Nauerth and colleagues show, for the first time, the feasibility of QKD between an aeroplane and a ground station. They established a stable and low-noise quantum communication channel with the aeroplane, which was moving at 290 km/hour at a distance of 20 km. These results are representative of typical communication links to satellites or to high-altitude platforms and thus demonstrate the feasibility of satellite based QKD schemes.