A new partnership between Edith Cowan University (ECU), observation data company QL Space, and University of South Wales (UK) is looking to the stars, literally, to create more secure and efficient communication.
The collaboration will focus on ‘free space optics’, which uses light all around we can’t see to communicate, by sending data via light particles, or photons.
ECU School of Science Senior Lecturer Dr Shihao Yan said this brought with it many benefits compared to using radio frequencies to send information.
“When information is sent from point A to point B via free space optics, an encoder and a decoder are placed at each end so as to ensure the security and integrity of the information being transmitted and these measures can provide protection against hacking and signal jamming,” Dr Yan said.
“It can also transmit more data at once, and it’s more efficient, we can send, let’s say, an image, a longer distance but still use less energy to do so.”
QL Space founder and CEO Raj Gautam said data could be sent to space via photons or particles of light, where satellite technology can relay it elsewhere in the world.
“This technology offers several advantages over traditional radio wave communication, including higher data rates and lower power consumption, which answers a big need in the communications industry,” he said.
“There are only a limited number of radio frequencies you can transmit data on, especially in the low Earth orbit, and they are getting more difficult to come by. So, there’s a real need for a better way of transmitting information in space, that gives free space optics a unique appeal.”
An emerging space science hub
The partnership will see a satellite ground station built near ECU’s Joondalup campus in Perth’s north, planned to be built in early 2024. It will eventually be one of many in the global network of stations jointly established with University of South Wales (USW).
Mr Gautam said free space optics was a burgeoning industry and the partnership between ECU, QL Space and USW would further emphasise Western Australia as a leader in space science research and industry.
“In the US, for example, they are doing a lot of work on this technology as it also has military implications because signals can’t get jammed and it’s so secure, which is so important,” he said.
“And ECU is a leading cyber security university, so this partnership aligns perfectly.”
“Besides a $100,000 cash contribution to future joint research project application, QL space will also provide optical lenses as in-kind contributions to the on-going research for this partnership.”
Dr Yan said this partnership will further ECU’s global reputation for cybersecurity excellence and capitalise on WA’s emergence as a space science hub.
“It’s well-known cybersecurity is in the midst of a skills shortage, but space cybersecurity is facing an even greater skills shortage,” he said.
“So, it’s imperative ECU includes space science in what we teach so we can continue to produce world-class, job-ready graduates.”