Optical quantum communication utilizing satellite platforms has the potential to extend the reach of quantum key distribution (QKD) from terrestrial limits of ∼200 km to global scales. We have developed a thorough numerical simulation using realistic simulated orbits and incorporating the effects of pointing error, diffraction, atmosphere and telescope design, to obtain estimates of the loss and background noise which a satellite-based system would experience. Combining with quantum optics simulations of sources and detection, we determine the length of secure key for QKD, as well as entanglement visibility and achievable distances for fundamental experiments. We analyse the performance of a low Earth orbit satellite for downlink and uplink scenarios of the quantum optical signals. We argue that the advantages of locating the quantum source on the ground justify a greater scientific interest in an uplink as compared to a downlink. An uplink with a ground transmitter of at least 25 cm diameter and a 30 cm receiver telescope on the satellite could be used to successfully perform QKD multiple times per week with either an entangled photon source or with a weak coherent pulse source, as well as perform long-distance Bell tests and quantum teleportation. Our model helps to resolve important design considerations such as operating wavelength, type and specifications of sources and detectors, telescope designs, specific orbits and ground station locations, in view of anticipated overall system performance.
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Corrigendum can be found in New Journal of Physics volume 16 article 069502, https://doi.org/10.1088/1367-2630/16/6/069502