Polnik, M., Mazzarella, L., Di Carlo, M. et al. Scheduling of space to ground quantum key distribution. EPJ Quantum Technol. 7, 3 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1140/epjqt/s40507-020-0079-6
Satellite-based platforms are currently the only feasible way of achieving intercontinental range for quantum communication, enabling thus the future global quantum internet. Recent demonstrations by the Chinese spacecraft Micius have spurred an international space race and enormous interest in the development of both scientific and commercial systems. Research efforts so far have concentrated upon in-orbit demonstrations involving a single satellite and one or two ground stations. Ultimately satellite quantum key distribution should enable secure network communication between multiple nodes, which requires efficient scheduling of communication with the set of ground stations. Here we present a study of how satellite quantum key distribution can service many ground stations taking into account realistic constraints such as geography, operational hours, and most importantly, weather conditions. The objective is to maximise the number of keys a set of ground stations located in the United Kingdom could share while simultaneously reflecting the communication needs of each node and its relevance in the network. The problem is formulated as a mixed-integer linear optimisation program and solved to a desired optimality gap using a state of the art solver. The approach is presented using a simulation run throughout six years to investigate the total number of keys that can be sent to ground stations.