Magazine
22:12 23 November 2023
Post by: WBJ

Reaching for the stars - and quantum loops

Space tech has stopped being the exclusive domain of academic science and government agencies. Or more accurately, it has risen above proof of concept and prototype stages to commercial and widespread applications. One Polish company has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, from a local engineering firm to one of EU’s top suppliers of satellite components and quantum technology. BY BEATA SOCHA

Reaching for the stars - and quantum loops
Source: Shutterstock

Creotech Instruments, a space and quantum tech company from Piaseczno outside Warsaw, has recently reached a market cap of PLN 450 million. While still not a unicorn, the company seems to be going from strength, securing contracts with the European Commission and the European Space Agency for satellite and quantum tech. The company’s revenue for the first six months reached PLN 19.8 million, a 31% increase y/y and its product sales recorded a 30% increase y/y, reaching PLN 11.9. In the commercial space segment alone, the company has identified the potential for orders of some 150 satellites, currently exceeding the firm’s production capabilities. To meet the growing demand, the firm has been investing heavily in new production facilities, covering an area of 2800 square meters. The heavy investments explain the firm’s negative EBITDA for H1 at PLN -2.7 million.

BECOMING AN EU LEADER

Creotech is indeed aiming high. Apart from serving commercial clients, Poland’s top space firm is involved in developing satellite components and defense systems: in May, the firm signed a contract with the State Treasury’s Armament Agency to do a feasibility study for a constellation of optoelectronic microsatellites.

The company’s expertise in satellite systems has been well recognized in Europe, too. In July, Creotech became the leader of the EU’s satellite segment in the REACTS project. In this role, Creotech coordinates the efforts of a group of world leaders, including OHB and Airbus.

The company’s CEO, Dr. Grzegorz Brona, admitted that the REACTS contract “puts us in a completely different position on the global stage of satellite producers, systems, and satellite components compared to a year ago.” He added that the company’s goal is to become the leading supplier of microsatellite technology in the European Union for defense and commercial projects.

The benefits of becoming a leading space company in Europe can potentially be pretty significant, considering Poland’s contribution to the European Space Agency has increased to €295 million for 2023-2025. “Our current and future actions will be focused on implementing this plan to fully utilize Creotech’s development opportunities and ensure that potential projects worth approximately €300 million translate into actual contracts and orders for the company,” commented Dr. Grzegorz Brona.

As per the European Space Agency's contribution mechanism, a substantial share of this sum is expected to circulate back to Poland through projects and orders for domestic companies. Creotech plans to participate in many of those. “Over the past 10 years, we have jointly implemented more than 25 projects with ESA, with the latest being the JUICE probe, which began its journey towards the Jupiter system in April,” said Paweł Górnicki, deputy CFO of Creotech.

Apart from the European Space Agency, the firm regularly delivers its solutions to the most advanced research institutions globally, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN in Geneva, MIT, Oxford University, the University Of California, Berkeley, and the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany. Key projects of the company include EagleEye, aimed at developing an Earth observation microsatellite, which will be launched into orbit in 2024, and the PIAST constellation, which plans to place three observational small satellites in orbit in 2025, all based on the HyperSat platform.

One of the ESA projects that Creotech is a part of involves the development and manufacturing of prototypes of large-surface detectors using superconducting nanowire technology. The detectors will serve two purposes: supporting quantum key distribution (QKD) networks for receiving keys from satellites and facilitating optical communication. The project is expected to conclude in September 2025.

GOING QUANTUM

While still in its nascent stages, quantum technology has immense growth potential, and Creotech has already secured its place in the emerging market. The Polish company has been tasked with co-implementing the first large quantum computer for the European Union in an international consortium led by the University of Innsbruck.

In April, the company signed a contract with the European Commission, whose first phase is valued at €20 million. Creotech’s cut is estimated at around €2.2 million. The project aims to create a 100-qubit computer, and Creotech Instruments will be responsible for developing and delivering the control system for ion traps based on an entirely new concept of an integrated circuit that is ultimately compatible with cryogenic conditions.

The integrated circuit will be crucial for the scalable management of the quantum processor, something that has thus far proved elusive for quantum computer designers, making them not only more reliable but also able to interface with classic computers. Once the consortium manages to build the 100-qubit computer, the second phase will involve the creation of 1,000 qubits. Creotech is the only representative from Central and Eastern Europe in the project.

WHY IS QUANTUM TECH NECESSARY?

To understand the gravity of the task Creotech is endeavoring to accomplish in the quantum computer project, we must understand the differences between classical and quantum computers.

Due to the quantum nature of the technology, the architecture of quantum computers is entirely different from microchip ones. It is three-dimensional and requires highly specialized facilities to build. We could, for instance, compare the two to cars and ships.

Classical computers, like cars, are versatile and can perform a wide range of tasks. They handle tasks sequentially, similar to how cars operate on roads, following a predefined path. No water or air vessel can do what cars can: get us from point A to B on land with perfect precision and at a reliable speed.

However, classical computers have limitations, much like cars do. They can only process a certain amount of data simultaneously, creating bottlenecks for complex calculations and simulations. Neither can they travel on water or fly – they weren’t built for water or air travel.

But, like ships, quantum computers have the potential to explore hitherto uncharted territories of computation. They harness the principles of quantum mechanics to perform complex calculations at speeds unimaginable for classical computers. Quantum computers can potentially solve problems practically unsolvable by classical computers, like climate models on a large scale, which could prove instrumental in managing and solving the challenges of climate change. They excel at tasks like factoring large numbers, optimizing complex systems, and simulating quantum physics phenomena.

Quantum computers are likely to usher in another breakthrough in cryptology, as their potential to break encryption is incomparable with classical computers. Once that becomes a reality, cryptocurrency developers (provided they are still around) would need to adopt quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms to remain secure.

If successful, the feat that Creotech is attempting (creating an integrated circuit for quantum computers) would be the equivalent of a ferry: capable of both housing multiple cars and traversing waters, a crucial link between land and another medium altogether. If done poorly, however, it would be like shooting the car into space. Flashy, but ultimately of little use.


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