On 16 January 2024, the CARIOQA Quantum Pathfinder Mission project kicks off its Phase A, CARIOQA-PHA, under the Horizon Europe EU-funded programme on quantum technologies for space gravimetry.

Coordinated by CNES, CARIOQA-PHA is a part of the CARIOQA Quantum Pathfinder  Mission, which aims to test the first quantum accelerometer onboard a satellite in the next decade. This significant breakthrough will place Europe at the forefront of the development of quantum technologies for space.

The CARIOQA-PHA (Cold Atom Rubidium Interferometer in Orbit for Quantum Accelerometry – Phase A) consortium will analyse the feasibility of the mission. It brings together six partners from four EU countries, including two space agencies (CNES, DLR), industrial companies (ADS-F, ADS-G, GMV) and a public partner (FORTH).

The CARIOQA Pathfinder Mission

The CARIOQA Pathfinder Mission, orchestrated by CNES and its partners, aims to validate the technological building blocks essential for operating quantum accelerometers in space. This mission seeks to elevate the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of quantum sensors to ensure their optimal performance in the challenging space environment.

Key Objectives of the CARIOQA Pathfinder Mission:

  1. Demonstrate the operation of a quantum accelerometer in space.
  2. Increase the TRL of quantum accelerometers to level 8 for optimal performance
  3. Validate technological building blocks crucial for space applications.

Quantum accelerometers are a disruptive technology, and their implementation in space will enable a considerable improvement in performance over classical technologies. This unfolds new prospects for geodesy missions (gravity field measurement, Earth’s energy balance, water cycle, seismic risk) or fundamental physics, for example. However, operating such a sensor in space raises several challenges, not only linked to the technological maturity of its subsystems, but also to the ability to deliver the expected measurement performance on a satellite platform.

This ambitious venture represents a crucial step towards bridging the gap between ground-based quantum accelerometers’ performance and the requirements for space applications. The Quantum Pathfinder Mission aligns with the roadmap for cold atoms in space, promising to revolutionize our approach to monitoring climate change and advancing our understanding of Earth’s complex systems.

The CARIOQA Pathfinder Mission is therefore an essential milestone to enable the use of quantum sensors in space for high-precision scientific measurements in space.

As such, both CARIOQA-PHA and CARIOQA-PMP are strategic phases of a global programme set for the deployment of  the CARIOQA Quantum Space Gravimetry Mission in the upcoming decades.