Chinese researchers have teleported an object to a satellite in Earth’s orbit of between 500 and 1400 kilometres away.
The elementary particle, a photon, was teleported from the Gobi Desert in the first successful “quantum teleportation” into space, Technology Review reported.
To achieve this, the research team transferred the quantum state of the photon – the information stored on it – to another photon in a process called quantum entanglement.
They then transmitted one up to the satellite, Griffith University physics professor Geoff Pryde explained.
“Quantum teleportation is sending some information which is stored on a single photon to a place far away, in this case transmitting that information from the ground up to a satellite.”
The researchers measured the two photons, one in orbit and one on the ground, and confirmed entanglement was occurring to ensure the teleportation attempt had succeeded.
The experiment is regularly performed in laboratories, but this was the first time it has been achieved outside of a laboratory. Previously, quantum teleportation had reached a distance of up to 100km.
The team set up in the Gobi Desert, at Ngari in Tibet, at an altitude of over 4000 metres to minimise the distance between the ground and the satellite. They achieved quantum teleportation at a distance of up to 1400km, the team said, depending on where the satellite was in its orbit.
The University of Science and Technology of China researchers said they accomplished “the first quantum teleportation of independent single-photon qubits from a ground observatory to a low Earth orbit satellite — through an up-link channel — with a distance of up to 1400km”.
Dr Pryde told The New Daily it was a “technologically challenging experiment” but wasn’t as “magic” as it sounded.
“It’s really actually not anywhere near as impressive as it might sound,” he said.
“No photon gets magically transferred from one place to another.
“It shows they can do other cool stuff in the future. But this is just a first step.”
The research team said it was an “essential step toward global-scale quantum internet”, Technology Review reported.
Michael J Biercuk, a senior physics lecturer at the University of Sydney, said: “It is not the science fiction image that many are conjuring.
“A quantum state, or information about the quantum system, was ‘teleported’ using protocol that’s been in use for years.
“This is a continuation of excellent research going on in China on the topic of quantum communications.”
The satellite, named Micius, was last year sent by a Long March 2D rocket to a Sun-synchronous orbit, meaning it passes over the same point on Earth at the same time every day.