Australian startup develops quantum sensors for space applications

Space

SAN FRANCISCO – Australian startup Q-Ctrl is developing quantum sensors to send to Earth orbit, the moon and eventually Mars.

“Our team members have built a variety of quantum sensors in the past with world-record performance,” Q-Ctrl CEO Michael Biercuk told SpaceNews. “Moving from lab instruments to space-qualified instruments is our next focus.”

Many nations are supporting NASA’s Artemis exploration mission directly or with associated endeavors. A consortium of Australian companies and academic institutions plans to send sensor-laden nanosatellites to the moon to search for water and other resources in 2023 as part of an initiative called Seven Sisters. Australian nanosatellite startup Fleet Space Technologies founded the Seven Sisters consortium.

Q-Ctrl is working with Fleet Space Technologies to develop quantum sensors to mount on the nanosatellites.

“For us, it’s about getting our feet wet in the space sector,” Biercuk said. “It’s a great next step for us to go beyond the terrestrial applications towards space-based instrumentation.”

In addition to its work in support of the Seven Sisters consortium, Q-Ctrl is developing quantum sensors to detect liquid water and mineral deposits as well as quantum-enhanced precision navigation and timing systems.

“Quantum systems show exceptionally stable performance over time,” Biercuk said.

For example, Q-Ctrl is “pushing hard on using roughly the same core technology — quantum sensors based on trapped atoms in a vacuum chamber — to perform gravimetric surveys.”

NASA is measuring Earth’s gravity field with the twin satellite Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on mission launched in 2018.

Quantum sensor on small satellites could offer similar observations.

“We can have the ability to do gravimetric survey for underground liquid water on Mars,” Biercuk said. “We’re pursuing opportunities to do space-based water prospecting with this new class of enhanced sensors.”

Fleet CEO Flavia Tata Nardini, said in a statement, “We wish to welcome Q-Ctrl to the exciting 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.”

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