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TNO and Airbus to Build Optical Ground Station for Europe’s Eagle-1 Quantum Mission

By Rachel Jewett | November 21, 2023

An infographic demonstrating plans for Europe’s satellite quantum key distribution system. Photo: ESA/SES

TNO and Airbus’ Netherlands subsidiary are joining the SES-led consortium for the Eagle-1 quantum key distribution (QKD) mission to build the optical ground station. TNO, an independent non-profit research organization in the Netherlands, announced the news last week. 

Eagle-1 is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to develop Europe’s first sovereign, end-to-end space-based QKD system, including the Eagle-1 Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite with a QKD payload, optical ground station, scalable quantum operational networks, and key management system.

The optical ground station will be able to receive quantum encryption keys from the Eagle-1 satellite. It will be designed to integrate fast adaptive optics, accurate mirrors, fiber coupling, a novel laser beacon system, and a stabilized telescope. 

TNO will be responsible for designing the optical ground station, the adaptive optics, and overall system engineering, and the Airbus team in the Netherlands will develop the support technologies, control platform, and implementation. Officina Stellare (OFS), Celestia-STS, Tesat, and Demcon will also participate. The collaboration is jointly funded by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) and Nxtgen Hightech. 

“By combining TNO’s expertise in free space optics and quantum, we can contribute to the future of secure communication networks for Europe. This development will strengthen the position of Europe, the Netherlands and our partners in a global emerging value chain,” commented Kees Buijsrogge, director of TNO Space.