Quantum technologies on the rise in the space sector

2 November 2021

Patent insight report - Quantum technologies and space

A new study published today reveals the growth of patent filings (2001-2020) for quantum technologies (QT) which are used in space technologies for earth observation, navigation and communication.

Today's space sector is an ever more service-driven domain, with a growing number of public and private actors across all continents pursuing scientific, military and commercial purposes, ranging from space exploration and human spaceflight to communication and navigation enabled by satellites.

Quantum technologies utilize quantum effects in the interaction and structure of particles as central working principle. Quantum and space domains have both become strategically important technology sectors for major powers around the world, including for European countries and the European Union (EU).

Use cases for quantum technologies in space are primarily in secure communications, in time and frequency transfer, as well as in Earth observation and sensing. In its patent filing analysis, the study considered three key quantum technologies that enable these main application areas:

  • Quantum Key distribution (that uses quantum physics to secure the distribution of symmetric encryption keys),
  • Cold Atom Clocks (the most precise and accurate frequency standards) and
  • Cold Atom Interferometers (who have the potential to revolutionise sectors, such as navigation and positioning, resource exploration, geophysical studies, and fundamental physics).

Trends in space-related QT patent families

This chart shows the evolution over time of filings in this sector. Patent families group together all publications for patents of a single invention and all members of the family must share the same priority numbers.

This report, prepared by the European Patent Office and the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), investigates the patent filing trends in quantum technologies directly linked to their application in space.

According to patent filing statistics, non-European countries are currently standing at the forefront of space-related QT innovation. This situation may change in the future with the recent introduction of major programmes intended to develop Europe's infrastructure for quantum communication.

With its charts and commentary the report is useful to technologists, companies and investors wanting to better understand these rapidly expanding technology domains.

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