A-QKD-S - Augmented Quantum Key Distribution Services

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Image credit: Craft Prospect Ltd

There is a driving need to secure highly sensitive information as new quantum technologies emerge.

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is an emerging field within cyber security which can serve to supplement increased assured demand or as a replacement for existing public key infrastructure. Due to the losses experienced in optical fibres in ground based QKD networks and line of sight limitations, space represents an excellent, global, and highly scalable mechanism for the distribution of secure keys.

This feasibility study defines an ‘Augmented Quantum Key Distribution (AQKD)’ satellite service that uses nanosatellites (particularly CubeSats) to deliver cryptographic keys and related services for fractions of the cost of traditional satellite constellations. The initial service implementation is based on the capability provided by the ROKS satellite to be launched in 2021, a UK in-orbit demonstration mission secured by the lead Craft Prospect.

This study focusses on the provision of a key distribution service that supports highly secure networks and end users that require high levels of mobility and flexibility due to working in dynamic environments. The service can target both downstream security users or midstream and emergent key/security service providers.

Users and their needs

The initial targeted solution is a bespoke key management service, delivered by a QKD enabled CubeSat. This solution provides a bespoke service that can be tailored to meet the needs of the individual customer. This could relate to enhanced levels of security, increased geographical coverage, increased reliability/availability, and reduced distribution latency.

With this feasibility study Craft Prospect has the opportunity to access end customers to gain critical information on the user needs, and the services that would truly add value to their businesses.

End applications are compatible with multiple market verticals including

  • Telecoms (UK, Spain),
  • financial services (Netherlands, UK),
  • oil and gas (UK),
  • security & defence (France, Italy, UK),
  • European diplomatic cables.

We are looking to engage as well with:

  • Organisations offering Key Management hardware (UK, France).
  • Organisations offering key distribution services (UK).

The consortium ensures a comprehensive engagement with potential end users, to fully understand their needs. 

Service/ system concept

Craft Prospect Ltd (CPL) has developed an upstream concept for an Augmented QKD (AQKD) service that has gained impressive traction within the QKD security community. They have been awarded an in-orbit demonstration mission called Responsive Operations for Key Services (ROKS), that will provide a proof of concept and the first implementation of the Augmented QKD based services investigated here.

The intended approach for each subsystem for the ROKS mission is:

System Level – Systems Architecture maintained by CPL to allow overall mission management,

  • Platform – Passed as a contracted requirement set to a satellite bus provider,
  • Payload – Internally designed,
  • Terminal – To be defined by external company,
  • Mission Operations – Requirement set to be passed to low level engineering team for implementation,
  • Service – To be defined within this study.

The A-QKD service works by delivering secured keys using QKD technology with nanosatellites.

We look at augmenting existing satellites infrastructures by providing a niche service in, for example, specific regions.

Image credit: Craft Prospect Ltd.

Space Added Value

The PKI market is estimated to be valued between $1.9 billion by 2023 and $3.6 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 15.1% and 21.1% respectively. This is in part due to the integration of IoT managed connecting devices and smart M2M technologies. It is believed that QKD, particularly satellite based QKD, will displace this reliance, as quantum computing becomes an ever-present reality and as algorithmic innovation increases. There is a driving need to secure highly sensitive information as new quantum technologies emerge. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) alone cannot be able to provide the safe transfer required to sustain security systems, however, satellite based QKD can enhance the current capabilities and ensure that the integrity of these systems is retained.

Current Status

At this moment we are starting to engage with possible end users to define use cases. A mapping of the capability requirements with the bottom-up system architecture of the ROKS cubesat mission has been initiated.

Image credit: Craft Prospect Ltd.

The diagram provides a visualisation of the service responding to a customer’s key pairing request. The service centre accepts customer requests and calculate a key priority list. This list can then be transferred securely to key providers. They will then be able to create schedules for key delivery and update the schedule on-board the QKD supplying satellite. For two customer terminals to communicate, keys must be first generated at both terminals. The satellite, having knowledge of both keys, would combine them using an XOR function and deliver the result to either terminal. The terminal can then solve the XOR function to gain the other terminals key. Now that both terminals share a key they can encrypt/decrypt data and communicate securely.

Project kicked-off successfully the 16th of April 2020

In this first phase of the project, we:

  • Held fruitful first meetings with
    • our European cybersecurity partner,
    • defence oriented organisations.
  • Presented the project key ideas in a business event, engaging with potential end users.
  • Created an initial systems architecture drawing (see figure).

Prime Contractor(s)

Subcontractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 24 June 2020 - Created: 24 June 2020