5 mins read 12 Mar 2021

Australian Quantum Computing and Space Start-ups Aim For the Moon

Quantum computing and space start-ups from Australia are combining forces to work towards building new technologies set to ride aboard CubeSats that will orbit the Moon, looking for important resources like water before humans arrive.

Topographic maps of the moon. Credit: USGS.

Sydney-based quantum computing startup, Q-CTRL, announced earlier this month that they will be working directly with the Australian Space Industry, building applications that will ride aboard Australian CubeSat missions that are heading to the Moon.

Q-CTRL will be working with the Seven Sisters consortium, which is being led and coordinated by Fleet Space Technologies and in collaboration with other Australian institutions such as OZ Minerals, University of Adelaide, and the UNSW, to prototype, develop and send CubeSats out to the Moon in 2023 to study Lunar mineralogy and resources ahead of scheduled human spaceflight.

The overall developments in technology and intellectual property across this collaboration is working towards the greater Australian space community goal of complimenting NASA’s Artemis Program, expected to land the first woman and next man on the Moon within the decade.

To assist with ensuring that the Seven Sisters CubeSats, Q-CTRL will be providing quantum sensing and navigation technology in the form of high-performance remote sensing payloads and applications to detect liquid water and mineral deposits through quantum-based gravity detection and magnetic field sensors.

“This ground-breaking application of autonomous quantum sensors in space exploration will be invaluable in leveraging extra-terrestrial resources to establish permanent human bases on the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said the Premier of South Australia Mr. Steven Marshall.

“It demonstrates Australia’s growing global leadership in both the quantum and space industries, establishing a solid foundation for future economic growth.”

Quantum computing and space-based applications, services and exploration concepts have over the last few years started to trend towards each other through real-world demonstrations and agreements to combine technologies that are able to process information and share data at higher speeds and productivity rates.

In 2019, both Google and NASA worked together to demonstrate the advantages and opportunities that could be obtained by applying quantum computing technologies across space applications.

“Our focus on quantum control engineering is enabling new applications in quantum sensing that were previously impossible. Quantum control is enabling small form factors, enhanced robustness, and the necessary autonomy to meet the strict requirements of uncrewed space applications,” said Q-CTRL CEO Michael J. Biercuk.

“Quantum-control-defined sensors give us the ability to provide valuable new geospatial intelligence services – whether on Earth or on celestial bodies.”

Quantum Computing and the Space Industry

Credit: Shutterstock.

In a nutshell, quantum computing is a new method of computing that utilises the rules of quantum physics to store and process information, with the expected outcome of solving certain types of problems much faster than traditional computers, even by today’s supercomputer standards.

Quantum computers are designed to harness the unique properties of the quantum world where a qubit (a unit of data in a quantum computer) can exist as a number of different properties at the same time, which is known as quantum superposition. For us here in the macroworld, this seems almost impossible to comprehend, but according to the laws of quantum mechanics – it can absolutely exist.

Currently, the field is in its early days around the world, with lots of research, including several prototypes and developments working towards reducing some of the challenges that exist – such as noise and hardware instability.

Quantum computing applications to the space science and exploration industries can be through a number of different means – such as the development of enhanced instrumentation aboard spacecraft, deeply complex position and velocity calculations of millions of Solar system objects at a given time frame or range, or helping design light, durable and space-ready materials to be used on human spacecraft and astronaut suits.

Q-CTRL was founded by Professor of Quantum Physics and Quantum Technology at the University of Sydney in 2017 and currently employs just under 50 staff members who comprise of researchers, engineers and computer scientists who are working towards solving some of the complications that arise from quantum computing during these pioneering days.  

The company will be utilising the Seven Sisters mission as a demonstrator to showcase the technologies capabilities that could be applied in other aerospace-based applications in orbit around Earth, such as utilisation for Earth Observation, position/navigation requirements, defence contracts, natural disaster management, climate change monitoring and finance/agriculture applications.

Additionally, the technology can be applied beyond Earth space exploration objectives – such as the Seven Sisters mission – by enhancing remote sensing capabilities on robotic explorers sent out to the moons and planets, across the Solar system.

The Seven Sisters Program

Close up image of the Pleiades star cluster. Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech.

The Seven Sisters mission, announced in January this year, plans on developing new efficient exploration methods for Earth, Moon and Martian resources, by utilising Australia’s expertise in resource extraction and management, along with the agility that comes with the growing Australian space industry.

The collaboration aims to be a specialist leader in developing space technologies that can be applied to CubeSats, including the incorporation of quantum computing applications that can enhance strategic objectives shared by the partners of the consortium.

“We wish to welcome Q-CTRL to the existing world of space exploration. They have the proven expertise to deliver advanced quantum technology solutions that will enable our missions to achieve goals that would otherwise have been unattainable,” Fleet Space Technologies chief executive Flavia Tata Nardini said.

The Seven Sisters program is named after the star cluster located in the constellation Taurus, called the Pleiades – but commonly referred to as the ‘Seven Sisters’ across many indigenous astronomical cultures around the world. In particular, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander astronomers across Australia have mentioned the Seven Sisters star cluster in their songlines and lore for thousands of years.