The UK and Singapore governments have joined forces to build and launch a miniature satellite that will use a quantum key distribution (QKD) technology to test the secure distribution of cryptographic keys across the globe.

The satellite, QKD Qubesat, will be developed with a $10m investment .

Scheduled to be operational by late 2021, QKD Qubesat is set to help both the UK and Singapore to grow their respective space and quantum technologies sectors by taking stake in the emerging QKD market.

The mission is also expected to open access to a global market worth up to $15bn over the next decade.

The UK’s part in the mission will be led by Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) Space facility, which will provide knowledge in innovative space technology and optical links required to transmit QKD signals.

“We will provide a vehicle for technology readiness-raising and rapid space qualification of quantum technologies.”

Singapore’s share of the work will be led by National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which will offer its expertise in the manufacturing of rugged and compact QKD instruments.

STFC RAL Space director Dr Chris Mutlow said: “As the UK’s national laboratory for innovative space technology development, this is exactly the kind of mission we are here for.

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“Alongside our international partners, we will provide a vehicle for technology readiness-raising and rapid space qualification of quantum technologies. This mission puts the UK ahead of our competitors in quantum communications.

“It will enable the space sector to tap into new manufacturing and export opportunities that will help the UK achieve its ambition of capturing a 10% share of the estimated £40bn global space market by 2030.”

Satellite-based QKD system can ensure security over national and international distances, at an affordable cost to alternative, ground based fibre systems.

QKD system can also be integrated onto the existing communications network systems and is resistant to all known computational attacks, including from future quantum computers.