UK completes first test flight of 'un-jammable' quantum navigation system

An RJ100 aircraft used in the first test flight of a quantum navigation system on May 9 in Whiltshire, United Kingdom.
An RJ100 aircraft used in the first test flight of a quantum navigation system on May 9 in Whiltshire, United Kingdom. Copyright QinetiQ
Copyright QinetiQ
By Anna Desmarais
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The UK completed a successful test flight of a quantum-powered navigation system that can't be jammed by foreign actors.

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The UK says they have achieved a new frontier in aviation: the first flight with a quantum-powered navigation system that cannot be jammed by foreign actors.

A group of quantum technology and aerospace companies completed the groundbreaking trials at Boscombe Down, a military aircraft testing site last Thursday.

These flights use an atomic clock and an "ultra-cold-atom-based quantum system" that detects changes in motion.

The aircraft is equipped with a quantum inertial navigation system (Q-INS) that doesn’t rely on constant satellite signals to update its position unlike current GPS systems.

That means the system will be more resistant to the effects of GPS jamming, according to the UK's Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Quantum-based systems "could, over time, offer one part of a larger solution… [to] ensure that the thousands of flights that take place around the world daily, proceed without disruption,” the statement reads.

The navigation system, built by US quantum tech company Infleqtion at a subsidiary in Oxford, went through eight hours of testing on the Avro RJ100, a short-haul commercial flight, according to the Telegraph.

The UK has already committed to deploying quantum navigation systems on all their commercial aircraft by 2030.

Quantum adds 'another layer of security'

The announcement from the UK comes a few weeks after the Russians allegedly jammed the flight of UK defence secretary Grant Shapps as it was passing over Kaliningrad, a small bit of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania.

GPS jamming involves using a frequency-transmitting device to block radio communications that regulate everything from phone calls to air ambulance services and WiFi.

Experts told the Financial Times that GPS jamming affected “tens of thousands” of civilian flights in recent months and could increase the risk of a major accident. Several Nordic and Baltic countries reported increased GPS blocking signals against their commercial flights in recent months, which they suspect is coming from Russia.

Finland suspended flights between Helsinki and Tarfu, Estonia last month after two flights were forced to turn around due to GPS jamming.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis accused the Russians in local media reports last week of using physical tactics now instead of cyber ones to directly impact the "daily lives" in the countries that they are targeting.

Landsbergis also called for sanctions against Moscow to make sure these actors know "that they are not operating in a grey zone".

The statement from the UK's science department said that GPS jamming is "relatively rare," but that the developments in quantum aviation will provide "another layer of security".

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