DARPA, NASA Target Quantum Applications

Article By : George Leopold

Quantum approaches are being leveraged to improve military sensors while advancing space-based optical networks.

The U.S. military and NASA are embracing quantum computing technology for a range of communications and sensor applications as they seek to leverage size, weight and power reductions as well as huge bandwidth increases and finer sensors.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is investing in efforts to integrate quantum technologies into RF antennas to improve the sensitivity of military sensor systems. Those upgrades would also increase access to bandwidth, as would upcoming NASA laser communications demonstrations.

“The development of space-based optical networks will allow us to transition to quantum networking from space—we envision that happening in 2030,” Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation, said during a recent briefing on upcoming laser communications demonstration missions.

“Optical communication is a stepping stone toward a much more capable, more robust technologies” such as quantum networking,” Younes added.

Meanwhile, DARPA, a key funder of quantum research since the 1990s, is moving closer to fielding quantum technologies with the award of antenna design contracts to BAE Systems. Among the goals is using quantum technology to reduce the size and number of antennas incorporated into RF sensor systems.

Quantum-based aperture technology is touted as decoupling antenna size from the wavelength of the incoming signal, thereby reducing antenna size and component counts on military sensors.

“While still in the early development phase, quantum sensing relies on fundamentally different physics than conventional antennas,” said Julia MacDonough, BAE Systems’ product line director. “This may allow us to circumvent traditional aperture design limits for sensitivity and size.”

A trio of DARPA contracts for quantum sensing awarded earlier this year are worth $6.5 million, BAE said. The company will team with quantum computer and sensing developer ColdQuanta of Boulder, Colo., as part of the defense agency’s quantum initiatives.

BAE, Merrimack, N.H., said this week it will serve as prime contractor on another DARPA effort focused on quantum apertures. That effort seeks to demonstrate the ability to receive modulated RF signals over a wide spectral range via a single receiver to provide “state-of-the-art sensitivity,” according to a solicitation issued last year by DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

George Leopold has written about science and technology from Washington, D.C., since 1986. Besides EE Times, Leopold’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, and other publications. He resides in Reston, Va.


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