Laser-cooled atoms to provide quantum gravimeter for satellites

European project featuring Airbus to develop atom interferometer capable of monitoring changes in sea levels.

Aviation giant Airbus is among 16 participants in a new European research project that is aiming to develop a laser-cooled atom quantum sensor for potential deployment in space.

The “CARIOQA-PMP” project, short for “Cold Atom Rubidium Interferometer in Orbit for Quantum Accelerometry – Pathfinder Mission Preparation”, also includes the French photonics company iXBlue (now known as “Exail”), and several of Europe’s research institutions.

According to a project fact sheet, its overarching goal is to “prepare the deployment of quantum gravimeters [and/or] accelerometers in space, within the decade”.

In its announcement, Airbus said that the plan was to build an engineering model of an accelerometer based on rubidium atom interferometry.

“Benefitting from the heritage of its research institutions, this project aims to bring Europe into a position for sustainable quantum technologies in space,” stated the firm.

In 2021 iXblue acquired fellow French firm Muquans, giving it access to quantum gravimeter technology based around cooling of rubidium atoms using a frequency-doubled 1560 nm laser.