Abu Dhabi to play larger role in space communications with new optical ground station

Middle East’s largest quantum optical ground station will enable ‘ultra-secure’ encryption

According to Abu Dhabi's Technology Innovation Institute, the new quantum optical ground station is the first in the Arab world. Cody Combs for The National
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A new telescope will allow Abu Dhabi to play a greater role in space communications.

The Middle East’s largest quantum optical ground station for ultra-secure global communication has been unveiled in the emirate by the Technology Innovation Institute (TII).

It is a specialised telescope on the ground that communicates with satellites using light particles for ultra-secure data transfer.

“I am proud that we are actively shaping the future of secure data transmission on a global scale,” said Ray Johnson, TII chief executive, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the centre.

“Our facility epitomises the pinnacle of quantum technology while serving as a centre of excellence for training, helping to nurture the emerging quantum technology sector in the UAE.”

Much of the research has yielded progress in the form of long-distance optical transmission of data between satellites and ground based receivers like the Abu Dhabi's quantum optical ground station, which is equipped with a quantum acquisition and tracking system, designed at TII.

The Abu Dhabi Quantum Optical Ground Station (ADQOGS) is situate at Al Sadeem Observatory in Al Wathba.

The first in the Arab world, 2,363-square-metre centre consists of an 800mm diameter tracking telescope and a control room for operational oversight.

“This is quite an advanced technology we’re demonstrating, quantum key distribution,” said James Grieve, senior director in TII’s quantum research centre.

“Once it’s operational, this will be a node in a global key distribution network,” he explained, referring to international efforts from various governments and companies to create a standard for secure, free-space optical communications.

“This will connect Abu Dhabi to a global network currently under construction,” he explained.

Abu Dhabi’s quantum optical ground station is currently in the testing phase, but Mr Grieve said it’s ahead of the curve on the international stage.

“There are only about seven other countries in the world that have demonstrated this technology already, and maybe 10 countries have the capability,” he said. “We’re joining quite an elite group here.”

Mr Grieve also said ground station eventually could serve a secondary purpose, high data rate optical data communication.

“There are larger and larger constellations of satellites in orbit and the amount of data collected in orbit is increasing exponentially,” he said. “With that massive amount of data in orbit, there has to be a way to get that data to the ground.”

Mr Grieve said optical technology is superior for moving that data.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest on that front,” he added.

In the long term, TII says the ADQOGS could help bolster economic opportunities in Abu Dhabi as a greater emphasis is placed on secure data communication in the finance, communication and telecoms sector.

Also taking part in the ADQOGS ribbon-cutting for ceremony was Ibrahim Hamza Al Qasim, deputy director general of the UAE Space Agency, a strategic partner and supporter of the project.

Updated: March 15, 2024, 4:42 AM