Latest News

Commercial Players Tackle Challenges to Securing the Proliferated Space Architecture 

By Rachel Jewett | April 6, 2022

      Stacy Kubicek, vice president and general manager of Missions Solutions for Lockheed Martin speaking at Space Symposium on April 6, 2022. Photo: Space Foundation

      COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As the space industry continues to launch satellites at an increasingly rapid pace, both the commercial industry and U.S. Department of Defense are working toward a proliferated architecture across multiple orbits, in which data can be captured and transported through space more rapidly and with greater security. 

      The amount of data collected on orbit is skyrocketing, and the commercial industry is developing technologies like inter-satellite links and on-board processing to improve the transmission, processing, and analysis of that data for both commercial and government users. 

      In a discussion about proliferated architectures on Wednesday at Space Symposium, panelists from companies including Parsons, Lockheed Martin, SpaceLink, and Redwire agreed that there is more opportunity than threats in proliferated architectures, but cybersecurity is a major challenge that must be dealt with. This issue is especially topical with the recent attack on Viasat’s KA-SAT network, although Viasat recently reported the attack affected the network and ground equipment and not the actual satellite. 

      Stacy Kubicek, vice president and general manager of Missions Solutions for Lockheed Martin, said that as assets are added to constellations, it increases the total attack surface, or potential objects in space that could be targeted. It’s not only the on orbit assets that need to be protected, Kubicek said, but also software and ground systems. 

      Threats are constantly evolving, Kubicek said, and Lockheed faces multiple hacking attempts each day. Cybersecurity solutions require a risk balance, and the company offers a tiered approach to security solutions. 

      “If we cyber-harden everything, there’s going to be a lot of cost, and a lot of latency,” Kubicek said. “Thinking about the different risks we want to take, where do we want to cyber-harden, versus where do we want to potentially take a little bit more risk to get data quicker? How do we balance some of those risks?”

      As the defense and intelligence sector further embraces commercial satellite capabilities in imagery and sensing, that creates security questions. The Space Development Agency (SDA) has said that it is interested in integrating commercial capabilities into the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA) to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) of the battlefield. 

      To that end, the SDA already is contracting with Capella Space, which provides commercial synthetic aperture radar with its satellites to various government customers, to include compliant optical inter-satellite links (OISLs) on their satellites to connect with the agency’s transport layer

      Richard Aves, executive vice president of Mission Solutions for Parsons Corporation, posed the question — “Do we have to start considering commercial ISR capabilities, military assets?” he asked. “What if an ASAT [anti-satellite] attack happened on a commercial satellite? How do we handle that in international law? Is that an act of war, or is that just a criminal act? These are questions we didn’t have to worry about a decade ago.” 

      None of Aves fellow panelists had a response to that question. 

      Younger startups or New Space companies may have an advantage in securing their systems, said Tony Colucci, chief strategy and commercial officer of Spacelink. “Startups have a bit of advantage because we build with current cybersecurity [capabilities] from day one,” Colucci said, as opposed to building off of older systems. 

      Security was an overarching theme in the discussion, beyond cybersecurity to securing operations in orbit, and securing launch capabilities. 

      Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Dean Bellamy, executive vice president of National Security for Redwire, pointed to how commercial capabilities can help secure national space architectures in terms of space situational awareness. 

      “When you have these proliferated architectures [it has] the benefit of providing situational awareness to our operators in the National Space Defense Center,” Bellamy said. “We should put a neighborhood watch sensor on every satellite going up, so we give them actionable intelligence so that they can make decisions to protect assets, to ensure they provide data [such as] precision navigation and timing, and ISR to our warfighters.”