China launched the world’s first quantum satellite Tuesday, state media reported, in an effort to harness the power of particle physics to build an unbreakable system of encrypted communications.
The launch took place at 1:40 am in the southwestern Gobi Desert, the official Xinhua news service said, and comes as the US, Japan and others also seek to develop applications for the burgeoning technology.
Beijing has poured enormous resources into the race, one of several cutting edge projects the world’s second largest economy has pursued as part of its massive national investment in advanced scientific research on everything from asteroid mining to gene manipulation.
The satellite nicknamed Micius after a 5th century BC Chinese scientist will be used in experiments intended to prove the viability of quantum technology to communicate over long distances.
Unlike traditional secure communication methods, the system uses photons to send the encryption keys necessary to decode information.
The data contained in the bursts of subatomic particles is impossible to intercept: any attempts at eavesdropping will cause them to self-destruct, Xinhua said.