On 9th April, the signature of an agreement between the European Space Agency and the European Commission at the EU Digital Day in Brussels, marked the first steps towards what could ultimately become Europe’s “Quantum Internet”, which could connect quantum computers, simulators and sensors to distribute information and quantum resources. Plans to build a European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (QCI) are now underway.
At the Digital Day, representatives of ESA and the European Commission’s Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect), in the presence of representatives of the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG Grow), signed a technical agreement to collaborate in designing a QCI. The combination of ESA and EC activities would optimise the provision of pan-European coverage.
Based on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a technology that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to perform cryptographic tasks, the QCI would consist of terrestrial network components and components in space, in the form of communications satellites.
Roberto Viola, Director-General of DG Connect, said:
“Quantum communication has the potential to protect the EU’s sensitive data and digital infrastructure for years to come. Today DG Connect is signing a technical agreement with the European Space Agency to prepare a secure end-to-end quantum communication infrastructure that, besides cybersecurity, could be used for many useful applications and services, such as digital signatures, authentication, and clock synchronisation. Work on quantum communication will be key in the Digital Europe programme as well as in the Horizon Europe programme.”
Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, added:
“Only by stimulating innovation can Europe place itself at the forefront of technology; and nowhere is this more critical than in the field of secure communications. It is our shared ambition to demonstrate that space-based solutions can provide a vital part of the European quantum communication infrastructure. ESA is therefore making available its expertise in satellite and optical communications, in order to meet the technological challenges of delivering Quantum Key Distribution services, which are not achievable by terrestrial solutions alone.”
According to the agreement, the terrestrial component of the QCI, under DG Connect’s responsibility, would be composed of a series of quantum communication networks linking critical infrastructures and sensitive communication and data sites in Europe. The space-based component, known as SAGA (Security And cryptoGrAphic mission), would be under ESA’s responsibility and would consist of a satellite quantum communication system with pan-European reach, supporting institutional use.
The QCI would stimulate solutions where EU industrial players can become leaders in the field of quantum communications, by fostering the development of new, innovative technologies and systems. It would also permit consolidation and expansion of Europe’s scientific leadership and excellence in quantum research; and increase European autonomy in this strategic field.
Quantum communications in the EU
In the period 2021-2027, quantum technologies will be supported by the EC’s proposed Horizon Europe programme for research and space applications, as well as by its proposed Digital Europe programme, which will develop and reinforce Europe's strategic digital capacities.