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Microgravity: living on the International Space Station
Microgravity: living on the International Space Station

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9 Communication and security

The security of communications is extremely important. The effectiveness of encrypting a message will determine whether anyone unauthorised can read it. Similarly, decrypting a message can give the advantage to an eavesdropper. The film The Imitation Game (2014), starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, provides a good background to the decrypting or ‘cracking’ of the German Enigma machine during the Second World War (Figure 8).

Publicity poster for 'The Imitation Game'
Figure 8 Publicity poster for The Imitation Game (2014).

The outcome of this cutting-edge research was the first electromechanical computer (called a Bombe), developed by Gordon Welchman, and the electronic Colossus, developed by Tommy Flowers.

Governments around the world have vested interests in maintaining communications security of their own systems as well as cracking the codes of other countries’ systems.

As light can be viewed as a wave or a particle (see Section 3), quanta of light called photons are used for secure communications. How relevant is this to the ISS? Well, in 2012, NBC News published an article (Hsu, 2012) on the subject of quantum key distribution. In it discusses a potential quantum entanglement for space experiments (QUEST) experiment to test quantum communication to and from the ISS. If you have some spare time this week, give this optional article [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] a read.

What other types of quantum technology are under investigation? Figure 9 lists the possible space applications of quantum devices from quantum key distribution (QKD) to quantum communication complexity (QCC). It also summarises the quantum research introduced in Video 5.

Described image
Figure 9 Application and benefits of quantum technologies.

Next you will complete the end-of-week quiz.