UK Government announces first test flight of quantum-based navigation systems

  • The UK Government conducted real-world trials of quantum anti-jamming technology for safer flights.
  • Quantum-based PNT systems were deployed on in-flight aircraft, aiming to enhance navigation resilience.
  • Quantum sensors reduce dependence on GPS and GNSS signals and offer new capabilities across sectors and technologies.

The UK Government recently launched the first airborne trials of a quantum anti-jamming technology, a significant step toward ensuring safer flights. While GPS jamming and spoofing attacks remain rare, their potential interference with aircraft flight paths underscores the need to future-proof Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) systems globally. 

Spearheading the worldwide deployment of this cutting-edge technology, the test showcased the first-ever deployment of a quantum-based PNT system on an in-flight aircraft. The UK’s ambition is to establish itself as a leading quantum-enabled economy, paving the way for resilient and accurate navigation systems. 

These developments reflect the union between two priority technologies identified by the Government as part of the Science and Technology Framework. By merging Future Telecoms and quantum technologies, industry can achieve better solutions for more resilient networks. It builds on terrestrial and non-terrestrial capabilities, guaranteeing enhanced connectivity to vehicles and devices. 

During the test flights, researchers demonstrated the application of an optical atomic clock and an ultracold atom-based quantum system. These technologies are integral components of the Quantum Inertial Navigation System (Q-INS). 

The revolutionary potential of this innovation lies in its ability to support PNT systems independently of traditional satellite navigation. By using temperatures near absolute zero, ultracold atoms integrate precision clocks to power quantum accelerometers and gyroscopes used in the Q-INS inside the aircrafts. 

Integrating quantum capabilities enables the calculation of an aircraft’s position without fully relying on satellite signals. High-perfomance inertial sensors, such as quantum accelerometers and gyroscopes allow systems to calculate changes in the velocity of an object with rotation measures.  

Departing from conventional accelerometers, the revolution of quantum accelerometers allow systems to measure the atoms’ acceleration using optical pulses. It creates an optical ruler inside the system that allows for the measuring and calculation of the object’s acceleration in relation to external rotation to accurately determine its position.  

These quantum-based innovations constitute the core of autonomous navigation systems. The success of the flight trials indicates the aerospace industry’s potential adoption of quantum PNT solutions. This applies not only to flights, extending to satellites and amplifying the use of non-terrestrial networks for other use cases.  

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), these trials aim to overcome vulnerabilities that threaten critical strategic activities. The development of quantum sensors by the UK addresses the dependence on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and GPS signals. These advancements in PNT technology aim to shield against single points of failure, crucial for the future of economic and defence activities. 

Furthermore, these flight trials mark another significant milestone in the UK’s National Quantum Strategy. They represent progress toward Mission 4 and the 2030 plan to launch the next generation of quantum navigation systems, independent of satellite signals. These breakthroughs in quantum technology will empower aircrafts with capabilities derived from optical atomic clocks and a quantum inertial sensor, with relevant implications across sectors.   

In summary, binding these two technology areas allows for more reliable, safe, and accurate systems, as well as bridging gaps in connectivity. With the resulting advances in quantum technology applied to Future Telecoms systems, the UK would be able to deliver enhanced connectivity to overcome current obstacles both in urban and rural areas. Ultimately, it would enable further innovations in emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles. 


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Contact the team

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Jaynesh Patel

Jaynesh Patel

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK

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