SES Leads Eagle-1 Towards European Cybersecurity And The Quantum Internet

Thierry Draus, VP Business Development, Product and Innovation at SES (© SES).

Eagle-1 is a pan-European quantum communications project led by the SES which aims to bring Europe one step closer to achieving digital sovereignty. Thierry Draus, VP of business development at the product and innovation group at SES tells us more about the timeline of the project, its beneficiaries and its ultimate goal of building a Quantum Internet.

What is the goal of the Eagle-1 project and how does it relate to European cybersecurity?

From the top-level view, the aim of Eagle-1 is really to equip Europe with the next-generation tool for securing the communication era of quantum computing. We want to build on the Quantum Key Distribution technology to ensure sovereignty for Europe in the security of the communication network.

While quantum computing will bring a lot of opportunities, its computing power can actually break current cryptographic systems that are used everywhere from banking systems to your credit card and team calls. 

Quantum Key Distribution is a technology which uses the principles of quantum physics to ensure that we can securely exchange keys between two parties. The first objective of the Eagle-1 project is to launch a satellite equipped with the QKD technology and demonstrate its feasibility in orbit. 

Eagle-1 is not just a satellite, it’s an end-to-end system including a spacecraft, a ground segment and an operational segment and we want to demonstrate that this technology can actually be used on the existing network and protect it by adding a layer of security that is unbreakable for quantum computers. 

The Eagle-1 project involves more than 20 partners, including the SES, itrust and LuxTrust. In what capacity is the SES involved? 

The SES is leading the consortium of over 20 European partners, which means that we coordinate the project activities with our partners. Since this is a ESA programme, our task is to coordinate with the other ESA member states who are participating in this project and contributing their expertise. 

As a satellite operator, our role is also to operate and provide the satellite segment of this project. As the project is still in the PoC stage, we will operate the satellite and deliver the demonstration services to the early adopters. 

We are also developing a key component of the key management system. Since we are close to the future users of the system, we are working on building the blocks that will ensure that the system can be integrated seamlessly into the users’ communication networks.

What is the timeline for the Eagle-1 project? 

We are currently finalising the design of all the components up to what we call engineering models. We build on the ground, the models that can be tested, and that will fly later. That’s the current the current status of the project. The goal is for Eagle-1 to be launched end of 2025, or early 2026. After the spacecraft is launched into orbit, we will test that the satellite and its payload (the quantum part of the satellite) are working as specified. After that, the satellite will be operated for a minimum of three years with a possible extension of two years.

Who are the Luxembourgish players that will benefit from this project?

The first use case of the QKD technology will be for the European connectivity network, linking institutions together to ensure that when they exchange information, they receive keys that are secured using quantum technology. These include critical infrastructures, banking sectors, data centres and the health sector, all of which are users who need this level of protection first. 

You’ve mentioned that Quantum Communications Infrastructure will ultimately evolve into the Quantum Internet. Can you explain what this means and what the implications of a Quantum Internet are?

Quantum Internet is really the goal of what we are doing now. Quantum internet relies on quantum devices, which are devices that can exchange information in a quantum state. It’s as if you had laser communication between both our laptops – except in reality this is not how it’s going to work, but that’s the main principle.

In the Quantum Internet, we can rely on quantum physics for higher security and faster communication of information. But all of this requires next-level technology that doesn’t exist. But Eagle-1 is a first step in this direction.

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