California-based startup Orbital Composites has been making significant strides in securing federal funding, the latest being a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the U.S. Space Force. This contract is aimed at developing Orbital’s patented 3D printable quantum antenna, a technology that could revolutionize secure, high-capacity space and terrestrial communications.

Quantum antennas represent a niche and emerging field within the broader domain of quantum electronics. Traditional antennas convert confined electromagnetic energy into open, unbounded radiation modes, effectively translating guided-wave energy into forms that can travel far from the source. In contrast, quantum antennas possess the capability to transcend localized radiation patterns and achieve a global quantum state. Unlike conventional antennas, which have fixed spatial and temporal radiation patterns, quantum antennas are position-independent and can evolve over time.

Orbital Composites’ quantum antenna leverages quantum principles to enhance communication capabilities. While traditional antennas are integral components of data-driven solutions and communication infrastructure, quantum antennas offer potential advantages in efficiency and functionality. These advantages may have far-reaching implications for both space and Earth-based systems. Quantum antennas are designed to detect or transmit quantum signals, often exploiting quantum phenomena such as superposition and entanglement. Although they are not part of quantum computing architecture like qubits, they play a crucial role in the broader quantum technology ecosystem.

One promising application of quantum antennas is in the realm of quantum computing, particularly in quantum networks or quantum internet. These antennas can serve as the transmitting or receiving end for quantum information, linking multiple quantum computers for distributed quantum computing and enabling more efficient quantum key distribution for secure communications. Quantum antennas could also potentially contribute to quantum error correction, helping mitigate errors in quantum calculations.

Advancements in the miniaturization and efficiency of quantum antennas could lead to the development of portable or streamlined quantum computing devices. This could facilitate the integration of quantum computing resources into conventional IT infrastructures, benefiting tasks like optimization, simulations, and data analysis.

Orbital Composites’ SBIR contract comes at a time when the ground station market is experiencing steady growth, driven by satellite constellations, broadband internet initiatives, and other telecommunications ventures. Orbital’s quantum antenna technology could offer an alternative to current solutions, delivering efficiency and cost benefits.

Moreover, the company is exploring the potential of In-Space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) for antenna construction. ISAM could enable the creation of larger and more complex antenna structures in space, bypassing the physical constraints imposed by rocket launches and fairings. The space antenna market is on the rise, influenced by satellite advancements and deep-space exploration. ISAM holds the promise of cost-effective and scalable solutions, potentially allowing Orbital Composites to produce quantum antennas at significantly lower costs compared to existing technologies.

The applications of Orbital’s quantum antennas span various aspects of the space economy, including connecting Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband mega-constellations to global mobile devices, enhancing secure military communications, and establishing robust links between satellites and ground stations. These antennas also have potential uses in Earth observation and deep-space communication systems.

Orbital Composites stands out not only for targeting the burgeoning new space sector but also for exploring cutting-edge technologies. In addition to quantum antennas and free-space manufacturing, the company is delving into space-based solar power. While this strategy garners attention and research funding, it also entails the risk of failing to deliver on ambitious promises.

Despite challenges, Orbital Composites has secured support from notable entities like Axiom Space, Northrop Grumman, and the Southwest Research Institute, earning a $1.7 million Direct-to-Phase II grant. In total, the company has received over $6.5 million in government funding through various projects. As the space industry continues to evolve, Orbital Composites remains a pioneering force, poised to shape the future of space connectivity.

By Impact Lab