Loft Orbital to fly Canadian quantum communications satellite

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WASHINGTON — Loft Orbital on Aug. 4 announced a contract to provide the spacecraft platform and arrange a launch for a Canadian quantum communications experiment. 

Loft Orbital signed the contract with Honeywell, the prime contractor for the Canadian Space Agency’s Quantum Encryption and Science Satellite mission, or QEYSSat for short. The terms of the contract were not disclosed. 

QEYSSat will use a FlexBus platform provided by Blue Canyon Technologies for 100-kilogram-class small satellites, Loft Orbital said in a news release. The satellite is projected to launch in 18 to 24 months, Loft Orbital CEO Pierre-Damien Vaujour told SpaceNews by email. A launch provider has not been announced. 

Loft Orbital is developing a constellation in low Earth orbit where it intends to fly satellites filled with payloads for customers. The company counts the U.S. Defense Department, the United Arab Emirates government and fleet operator Eutelsat among its customers. 

Honeywell received a 30-million-Canadian-dollar ($23 million) contract in 2019 to build QEYSSat, which will demonstrate the ability to beam quantum “keys” between Earth and space. 

Quantum key distribution is an advanced form of encrypted communication for which the only known space-based demonstration was performed by China’s Micius spacecraft in 2017.

QEYSSat will receive a quantum key via an optical ground station, verify the key, and transmit it to another ground station. The satellite will test the ability to conduct quantum key distribution over long distances, since fiber transmission is limited to about 200 kilometers.