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September 28, 2020

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Link loss analysis for a satellite quantum communication down-link

Chunmei Zhang, Alfonso Tello, Ugo Zanforlin, Gerald S. Buller, Ross J. Donaldson, “Link loss analysis for a satellite quantum communication down-link,” Proc. SPIE 11540, Emerging Imaging and Sensing Technologies for Security and Defence V; and Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for Micro- and Nanosystems in Security and Defence III, 1154007 (20 September 2020);¬†

The analysis of link loss is one of the first and most important steps for the design of an optical communication system. This is particularly vital in quantum communications systems where the information is encoded at the single photon level, and the quantum optical signal cannot be amplified deterministically. In most cases, the desired quantum bit error rate and secure key rate can only be achieved by minimizing the link attenuation and the background noise level in the quantum communication system. In optical fiber implementations, the transmission distance is inherently limited by the loss per unit distance of the optical fiber, meaning fully global coverage is not readily achievable with the current optical fiber backbone networks. To overcome the terrestrial link limitations for quantum communications, long-distance free-space links, using low-Earth orbit satellites are being proposed and implemented. Due to the optical link length, the main contributors to link losses are geometric loss, atmospheric attenuation, and losses associated with pointing and tracking errors. The total link loss is dominated by the geometric loss, therefore, it is important to analyze its importance in relation to the quantum communications link. In this paper, the loss of a low-Earth orbit satellite-to-ground (downlink) quantum communication link is analyzed. The analysis includes losses associate with the channel (geometric and atmospheric) and the receiver system. This paper also compares the data of a known satellite quantum communications mission, highlighting trade-offs in investment for satellite platform and optical ground station. Based on the link loss analysis, decoy state BB84 and E91 protocols were chosen to demonstrate the link performance under an example scenario. The work contributes to the design of the optical ground station for a CubeSat mission.