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03:00 PM, August 17, 2016
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China Launches First Quantum Enabled Satellite
Micius quantum satellite launch (Image: China.org.cn)

China launched first quantum-enabled satellite Tuesday.

The 631-kg satellite lifted off at 1:40 am atop a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in north-western China. It will operate 500 km above the Earth's surface for at least two years. 

It is the third in a row of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' space science satellite firsts, following the Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite that will help scientists deepen their understanding of the past and future of galaxies and the universe and Shijian 10, which carried out a series of experiments in microgravity in space for physical and life sciences, according to the academy, China Daily reported Tuesday.

It is practically impossible to crack, intercept or wiretap quantum communications because its physical traits mean it cannot be replicated, separated nor reverse engineered. Any attempt to interfere with its transmissions will leave a mark, disrupt the communication and result in parties involved being warned, claims the news report.

In addition to China, researchers in Austria, Germany, Singapore, Britain, Canada and Italy are also developing quantum-enabled communications technologies, they said. 

The satellite, Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes after it enters a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 km. 

Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated. It is hence impossible to wiretap, intercept or crack the information transmitted through it. 

With the help of the new satellite, scientists will be able to test quantum key distribution between the satellite and ground stations, and conduct secure quantum communications between Beijing and Xinjiang's Urumqi. 

QUESS, as planned, will also beam entangled photons to two earth stations, 1,200 km apart, in a move to test quantum entanglement over a greater distance, as well as test quantum teleportation between a ground station in Ali, Tibet, and itself. 

The scientists now are expecting quantum communications to fundamentally change human development in the next two or three decades, as there are enormous prospects for applying the new generation of communication in fields like defense, military and finance. 

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