Optical front-end for a quantum key distribution cubesat

Paul Serra, Ondrej Čierny, William Kammerer, Ewan S. Douglas, Dae Wook Kim, Jaren N. Ashcraft, George Smith, Charlotte Guthery, Tom Vergoossen, Alex Lohrmann, Robert Bedington, Chithrabhanu Perumangatt, Alexander Ling, Kerri Cahoy

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Recent advances in pointing and tracking capabilities of small satellite platforms have enabled adoption of capabilities such as high-resolution Earth Observation (EO), inter-satellite laser communications and, more recently, quantum communications. Quantum communications requires unusually narrow optical beams and tight pointing performance (on the order of ten microradians) to close an inherently brightness-limited quantum link. This limit is due to quantum communication protocols such as quantum key distribution and teleportation requiring individual quantum states to be transmitted with photon number restrictions. We examine an opportunity to combine quantum communications with laser communications in sharing an optical link. We discuss a combined quantum and laser communication terminal capable of performing space-to-ground entanglement-distribution and high data rate communications on a 12U CubeSat with a 95 mm beam expander and an 60 cm aperture optical ground telescope. Photon pairs produced by the quantum terminal are entangled in polarization so the polarization must be maintained throughout the optical link. We discuss active and passive compensation methods in space and polarization reference frame correction using a polarized reference beacon at the ground station. The combined quantum and laser communication terminal approach enables secure communications over an optical channel with rates of 100 Mbps and sub-nanosecond time transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118523C
JournalProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
StatePublished - 2021
Event2020 International Conference on Space Optics, ICSO 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Mar 30 2021Apr 2 2021


  • CubeSat
  • Link budget
  • Optical communication
  • Quantum key distribution
  • Telescope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Optical front-end for a quantum key distribution cubesat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this