Former WW2 airfield near Perth chosen for site of satellite quantum facility

A former World War Two airfield between Dundee and Perth has been chosen for a new state-of-the-art facility that will help tackle the threat from cyberattacks.

The optical ground station (OGS) at Errol Aerodrome will demonstrate and test satellite quantum secure communications, which overcome the threat of cyberattacks, enabling secure transmission of information.

Current methods using terrestrial fibre links are limited by the distance each quantum signal can travel. Using satellites will allow quantum communications to be sent securely all over the world.

The new research facility will be developed as part of the Quantum Communications Hub project, funded through the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The Errol OGS project is a joint venture between hub researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and Dundee Satellite Station, formerly University of Dundee Satellite Receiving Station, which is a commercial station offering a range of services to the UK and international space sector.

It aims to deliver quantum security at all distance scales, including intercontinentally via satellite, and will also support future research and development (R&D) work and collaboration with international partners.

The Errol site, which is located on the bank of the river Tay, was selected by the research team following an “internal competitive process”. This utilised extensive modelling of key variables such as light pollution, cloud cover and sight lines.

Once operational, the optical ground station will be used by researchers directly involved in the hub’s satellite R&D programme of work and based at multiple partner institutions - the University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the University of Strathclyde and the University of York.

The Errol project is a joint venture between hub researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University and Dundee Satellite Station, formerly University of Dundee Satellite Receiving Station.

Other UK researchers with relevant interests in experimental satellite quantum communications will be invited to work onsite.

Ross Donaldson from Heriot-Watt University, who led the site proposal, said: “I am thrilled that the Heriot-Watt University and Dundee Satellite Station partnership was chosen to host the hub’s optical ground station.

“Heriot-Watt University has world leading expertise in quantum communications and the enabling technologies behind it. [This] will place Heriot-Watt University at the forefront of satellite quantum communications research, enabling engagement with future missions from national and international teams.

“Steps are already underway to build on this capability, through further research investment and engagement with UK-based industry.”

Dundee Satellite Station’s technical director, Paul Crawford, said: “Dundee is a unique ground station in that we developed and operated in an academic environment for over 40 years and actually designed and built our own systems, so we are natural partners for any R&D focused projects such as this.”

Professor Tim Spiller at the University of York added: “Satellites will form an essential part of future worldwide quantum communications, and our hub in-orbit demonstrator mission is one of numerous R&D projects being undertaken to progress towards this goal.

“The ground-based receiver is clearly a key element of any mission, and we look forward to the hub optical ground station becoming operational at Errol.”

The hub’s in-orbit demonstrator mission is one of three complementary quantum communications research projects currently undertaken by UK organisations.

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