At today’s Digital Day, representatives of the European Commission’s Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG Connect) and the European Space Agency (ESA), in the presence of representatives of the Commission's Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG Grow), signed a technical agreement to collaborate in designing a Quantum Communication Infrastructure (QCI). The QCI would represent the next generation of ultra-secure communications in Europe, allowing information to be transmitted and stored ultra-securely, linking critical data and communication assets all over the continent.
Based on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a technology that uses the principles of quantum mechanics to perform cryptographic tasks, the QCI would consist of components on earth and in space, and significantly boost Europe’s capabilities in cybersecurity and communications.
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. The 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 earth-based 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 the ESA’s responsibility and consist of satellite quantum communication systems with terrestrial reach. The combination and interconnection of both parties’ activities would be necessary to ensure the coverage of the whole EU.
The QCI would stimulate a market 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 to consolidate and expand Europe’s scientific leadership and excellence in quantum research, and increase Europe’s strategic autonomy in this strategic field.
Quantum communications in the EU
In October 2018, the European Commission launched the first phase of the Quantum Technologies Flagship, a EUR 1 billion, ten-year initiative, pooling resources around a commonly agreed science and technology roadmap. Five fields are covered: quantum communication, quantum computing, quantum simulation, quantum metrology and sensing, and the basic science behind quantum technologies.
In the first half of 2019, DG Connect plans to launch a QKD testbed platform. This pilot project testing the potential of QKD to add an extra layer of security to Europe’s digital infrastructure will receive € 15 million of funding from Horizon 2020. It will be a crucial stepping stone to building a QCI in Europe that will test the feasibility of using QKD for this. It will also trial the interoperability of quantum components from different vendors and address the feasibility of large-scale QCI deployment across Europe. Another objective is the standardisation and security certification of QKD-based secure communication solutions.
In the period 2021-2027, quantum technologies will be supported by the Commission’s proposed Horizon Europe programme for research and space applications, as well as its proposed Digital Europe programme, which will develop and reinforce Europe's strategic digital capacities.
The European Space Agency
The ESA provides Europe’s gateway to space. It is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission of shaping the development of Europe’s space capability and ensuring that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. 22 countries are members, of which 20 are EU Member States. Slovenia is an Associate Member, and the ESA has formal cooperation with several other EU countries. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, the ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. In addition, the ESA is working with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.