Q.ANT, Bosch, TRUMPF and German Aerospace Center aim to use quantum sensors to control satellites 

Pro­ject part­ners plan to launch first satel­li­te with quantum technology atti­tu­de con­trol in 2027 // Quantum sensors are a key technology for accu­rate­ly con­trol­ling the ori­en­ta­ti­on of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on satel­li­tes // Sci­en­ti­fic exper­ti­se to be pro­vi­ded by the Fer­di­nand-Braun-Insti­tut, Leib­niz-Insti­tut für Höchst­fre­quenz­tech­nik // Ger­man government allo­ca­tes eight-figu­re sum to sup­port QYRO project

Stuttgart/Cologne/Berlin, August 26, 2022 – Quantum technology start-up Q.ANT, Bosch, TRUMPF and the Ger­man Aero­space Cen­ter (DLR) have for­med a part­ners­hip to deve­lop space-qua­li­fied atti­tu­de sensors. The aim is to use the­se quantum technology-based sensors to achie­ve high-pre­cisi­on atti­tu­de con­trol of minia­tu­ri­zed satel­li­tes and impro­ve world­wi­de data com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons. The sensors’ abi­li­ty to main­tain pre­cise ori­en­ta­ti­on of the satel­li­tes in rela­ti­on to each other will enab­le high-speed data con­nec­ti­vi­ty – and that makes them a key part of the technology puz­zle. “This stra­te­gic part­ners­hip shows the tre­men­dous poten­ti­al that lies in the col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve development of pionee­ring tech­no­lo­gies. The deploy­ment of quantum technology in the aero­space indus­try is a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for Ger­ma­ny as a major industrial hub,” says Micha­el Förtsch, CEO of Q.ANT. By sup­por­ting a glo­bal net­work of satel­li­tes in low Earth orbit, this new col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve ven­ture will impro­ve Inter­net con­nec­ti­vi­ty, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in more remo­te regi­ons. The Ger­man Aero­space Cen­ter (DLR) hopes to launch its first minia­tu­ri­zed satel­li­tes equip­ped with quantum technology in five years’ time. Atti­tu­de and posi­ti­on sensors that harness quantum effects can be used not only for satel­li­tes, but also for auto­no­mous dri­ving systems and indoor navi­ga­ti­on tech­no­lo­gies in fac­to­ries, logistics wareh­ouses and other faci­li­ties. The pro­ject has a rese­arch bud­get of some 28 mil­li­on euros, much of which has been pro­vi­ded by the Ger­man Federal Minis­try of Edu­ca­ti­on and Rese­arch (BMBF). The part­ners­hip also inclu­des the Fer­di­nand-Braun-Insti­tut, Leib­niz-Insti­tut für Höchst­fre­quenz­tech­nik (FBH), a rese­arch Insti­tu­te that spe­cia­li­zes in deve­lo­ping laser diodes, par­ti­cu­lar­ly for app­li­ca­ti­ons in space. 

Quantum sensors gua­ran­tee extre­me­ly high precision

Reli­able trans­mis­si­on of satel­li­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on signals can only be achie­ved by con­stant­ly main­tai­ning high-pre­cisi­on atti­tu­de con­trol of satel­li­tes in their orbit. If a satel­li­te moves out of posi­ti­on, the signals get wea­ker. The con­sor­ti­um plans to use quantum technology to per­ma­nent­ly enhan­ce mea­su­re­ment sta­bi­li­ty. Quantum sensors are par­ti­cu­lar­ly sui­ta­ble for deploy­ment in satel­li­tes thanks to their abi­li­ty to pro­vi­de reli­ab­ly accu­ra­te mea­su­re­ment results and excel­lent per­for­mance in a com­pact, low-weight packa­ge. This solu­ti­on can keep satel­li­tes cor­rect­ly oriented in space over a peri­od of years. 

Solid part­ners­hip bet­ween rese­arch and industry

The goal of deve­lo­ping Euro­pean quantum sensors is to achie­ve grea­ter inde­pen­dence from the glo­bal mar­ket. Q.ANT will lead the col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve development pro­ject and deve­lop the over­all sensor con­cept. It is also respon­si­ble for inte­gra­ting the various sensor com­pon­ents and kee­ping them in pre­cise and sta­ble align­ment with each other to ensu­re they func­tion smooth­ly and reli­ab­ly in the satel­li­te. “The job of our sensor is essen­ti­al­ly to impro­ve the satellite’s equi­li­bri­um,” says Micha­el Förtsch, CEO of Q.ANT. The Stutt­gart, Ger­ma­ny-based quantum technology start-up will also be sup­ply­ing key elec­tro­nic com­pon­ents such as a very low-noi­se detec­tion system. Bosch rese­ar­chers are working on the development of a minia­tu­ri­zed, space-qua­li­fied sensor cell. “The mea­su­ring cell is the core com­po­nent of the quantum sensor,” says Tho­mas Kropf, who heads up rese­arch at Bosch. It is fil­led with an ato­mic gas that is exci­ted by laser beams and magne­tic fiel­ds, which cau­se the atoms to spin. The rota­ti­on of the sensor cau­ses chan­ges in the rota­tio­nal speed of this spin. This pro­vi­des high-pre­cisi­on feed­back on chan­ges in the satellite’s atti­tu­de, ther­eby enab­ling more accu­ra­te atti­tu­de con­trol. “We’re deligh­ted to be part of the pro­ject and to be able to con­tri­bu­te our exper­ti­se in quantum sensors. It’s ano­t­her chap­ter in the suc­cess sto­ry of MEMS (micro-elec­tro-mecha­ni­cal systems) sensor technology at Bosch.”
TRUMPF will con­tri­bu­te laser exper­ti­se from two of its Ger­man loca­ti­ons. TRUMPF Pho­to­nic Com­pon­ents in Ulm will sup­ply the minia­tu­re laser diodes. The­se are cur­r­ent­ly used in smart­pho­nes, industrial opti­cal sensors and simi­lar app­li­ca­ti­ons, but TRUMPF will now be tea­ming up with the Fer­di­nand-Braun Insti­tut to pre­pa­re the­se robust beam sources for use in quantum technology and in space. “I can see a tre­men­dous­ly bright future for our minia­tu­re lasers in a who­le varie­ty of new app­li­ca­ti­ons. This is the kind of government-fun­ded pro­ject that gives Ger­ma­ny a real boost as a major hub of photonics exper­ti­se. The­re are so many inno­va­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gies that can bene­fit from the know-how and sta­te-of-the-art pro­duc­tion faci­li­ties that we have built up over the years,” says Bert­hold Schmidt, CEO of TRUMPF Pho­to­nic Com­pon­ents. TRUMPF’s Ber­lin loca­ti­on spe­cia­li­zes in pro­vi­ding solu­ti­ons in the fiel­ds of sensor, laser and quantum technology. It com­bi­nes the light sources from Ulm with addi­tio­nal mea­su­re­ment technology and then inte­gra­tes the resul­ting system into robust, minia­tu­ri­zed housings using inno­va­ti­ve assem­bly and auto­ma­ti­on tech­ni­ques. The final pro­duct is tem­pe­ra­tu­re-sta­bi­li­zed to ensu­re it can with­stand the extre­me con­di­ti­ons in space. The Gali­leo Com­pe­tence Cen­ter at DLR is respon­si­ble for all space-rela­ted aspects. As well as ensu­ring the system is space-qua­li­fied, it will also be in char­ge of the imple­men­ta­ti­on, trans­por­ta­ti­on and ope­ra­ti­on of the satel­li­te. The Ger­man Federal Minis­try of Edu­ca­ti­on and Rese­arch (BMBF) is fun­ding the joint pro­ject QYRO as part of an initia­ti­ve desi­gned to sup­port flagship pro­jects in quantum-based mea­su­ring technology that aim to address socie­tal challenges. 

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