Chinese scientists have sent the first quantum transmission from earth to an orbiting satellite, marking another key step in the creation of an “unhackable” global communications network.

In a summary of their experiment published on Thursday in the scientific journal Nature, the team led by Pan Jianwei said the transmissions had travelled as far as 1,400km between base stations in central and western China and a satellite launched last year.

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“Previous [quantum] teleportation experiments between distant locations were limited to a distance of the order of 100km,” the scientists wrote. 

Unlike traditional communications, which can be tapped surreptitiously, anyone attempting to eavesdrop on a quantum communication creates a disturbance that can be detected by the network’s users.