A big difficulty preventing single-photon communications to a satellite is the detector noise caused by radiation in orbit. In a previous study, we showed that with a combination of sufficient cooling during operation and thermal annealing during maintenance, it should possible to keep this noise low enough to do quantum key distribution. What we could not capture at that time, though, was whether the cycling of cold and hot over the lifetime of a satellite would have any effect, and in particular how the choice of when to anneal would impact this.
In this study, we address this question by applying multiple rounds of radiation to a flight-like apparatus, and quantifying its performance between each round, over a two-year-equivalent accelerated irradiation campaign. We used two devices, one of which was annealed at regular intervals, the other conditional on the noise counts exceeding a predefined threshold. In the end we found a very slight benefit to the conditional strategy for maintaining good performance through the entire satellite nominal lifetime, and significantly beyond.
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