Quantum Communications: Replacing the Slow Speed of Light
Messaging—and even transport—could be instantaneous.
In December, my monthly blog was an article titled Quantum, Artificial Intelligence, Dilbert and Duct Tape. Quantum interests me. "Dilbert" I read daily, and duct tape saved the protagonist in Andy Weir’s novel "The Martian." It’s not that I understand basic principles of quantum mechanics, but there is so much that quantum mechanics and its associated physics offer that crosses so many technological fields and means for the future of space exploration.
Quantum mechanics can resolve the issue of time lag in command, control and communications (C3) with a side benefit—not addressed in this blog—of freeing up additional radio frequency (RF) spectrum within the growing world of wireless. Here, we'll talk instead about “entanglement.”
Entanglement is what Albert Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance.” Entangled quantum particles also are known to create a “teleportation” effect. Entangled quantum particles remain instant twin replicates of each other, regardless of the distance between them. When an action on one is changed, it results in an instantaneous similar action on the other. Such is the entanglement between the two particles that they remain a constant twin, regardless of distance.
Research explores how the quantum mechanics of entanglement can be a source for instantaneous communications. Understanding the principle of entanglement is important. It occurs when a pair of quantum particles physically interacts with each other, either serendipitously or intentionally, or when a single quantum particle such as photon is split. Scientists have used a laser beam to split single photons. Once split, the now two new photons exhibit the same properties. And, somehow they are linked—entangled—with each other so that whatever effect occurs on one also occurs on the other, regardless of how how far apart they are from each other.
Did you watch the Juno spacecraft activities on July 4th? I did. It was quite an achievement for our colleagues at NASA. Communications between the Juno spacecraft and NASA control was limited to the speed of light.
Quantum entanglement is not limited to the speed of light. Some scientists project that this instantaneous transfer of state between the two entangled elements takes place at approximately 10,000 times the speed of light, again, regardless of distance. The counter argument is that it is instantaneous, which means I repeat myself.
The communications time lag between the Juno spacecraft and NASA occurred because of the distance between the probe in the vicinity of Jupiter and Earth. The spacecraft had to approach on auto-pilot with humans on Earth crossing their fingers and rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Everything for those critical approaching miles on this historic, 1.8 billion-mile journey was programmed nearly five years earlier in computer programs onboard the Juno spacecraft. Even with communications traveling at the speed of light, it took 48 minutes for messages to travel between the spacecraft and NASA.
Within the concept of quantum communications, the transmission would have been instantaneous. Quantum communications would allow for instant software updates; enable human command and control whenever necessary; promote the ability to react immediately to any event; and even warn ahead of a solar event traveling behind the quantum communication at the slower speed of light.
Quantum communications, using the principle of entanglement, will bring a significant step forward in mankind’s venture across the universe. The entanglement principles that make quantum the optimum communications network for conquering space also are tied to the theory of teleporting.
Star Trek's “beam me up, Scotty” dialogue might not be as far out into the future as some of those born today may find.
David E. Meadows is a retired U.S. Navy captain and the author of the Sixth Fleet series, along with Seawolf, Joint Task Force Liberia, Tomcat, Final Run and other action-adventure novels. He currently is working on a nonfiction effort titled Red Crown, Charger Horse and the Cryptologic Tide.