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Posted on February 6th, 2018

Out of this World – Eyes to the Sky

The Cold War marked a time of unprecedented advancements in aerospace technology that the U.S. has not seen since that time. The Apollo 17 mission in 1972 was the last time a person set foot on the Moon. Buoyed by the threat of war and an insatiable need to prove our superiority against the U.S.S.R., NASA pushed the limits of current technology. Today, the space agency has diminished in importance in the eyes of Congress and the public at large.

Conversely, China has picked up the baton where the U.S. left it to rust along with deductive reasoning and evidence-driven science. The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee recently advised the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Chinese government is jockeying with the US for dominance in key technologies that pose a serious threat to U.S. security. Not only are they advancing in space and satellite technologies but in artificial intelligence and cyber technologies.

Encryption is a key area of interest for governments and commercial industry. Barely a day goes by without hearing some new tale of hacking or weakness in security protocols. China recently developed the quantum technology to encrypt signals sent over a long distance. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient knowledge or ability to fully understand the science behind the technology. At a basic level, data can be sent the usual way and the key needed to open that file is sent via a satellite called Micius in the form of photons. Any attempt to intercept the photon would leave signs on the photon, i.e. it would wipe away sections of the key.

The latest test of quantum keys came in the form of an encrypted videoconference between researchers in Beijing and Vienna, a distance of 4,722 miles (7,600 kilometers). Previously, Micius encrypted keys for two photos over a shorter distance. This achievement is astonishing and difficult to grasp. It very rightly should raise concerns about the ability of the United States stay competitive with China in technology, security and space exploration.

There are plans to send up more quantum satellites higher into orbit to create a global network for the distribution of quantum keys throughout China and Europe.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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