Working as a cybersecurity engineer for many years, and closely following the rapid evolution of the space ecosystem, I wholeheartedly believe that space systems today are targets of cyberattacks more than ever.
The purpose of this article is to give you a glimpse of cybersecurity threats and challenges facing the New Space economy and ecosystem, with a focus on smallsats in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), as well as some technologies to assess space cybersecurity risks.
The article series is divided into four parts: Introduction to New Space, Threats in the New Space, Secure the New Space, and finally New Space Future Development and Challenges.
The Aerospace and Defense industry is a global industry composed of many companies that design, manufacture, and service commercial and military aircraft, ships, spacecraft, weapons systems, and related equipment.
The Aerospace and Defense industry is composed of different key segments: large defense prime contractors/system integrators, commercial aerospace prime contractors or system integrators, first-tier subcontractors, second-tier subcontractors, and finally third-tier and fourth-tier subcontractors.
The industry is facing enormous challenges that stem from the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns over sustainability, disruptions from new technologies, heightened regulatory forces, radically transforming ecosystems, and, above all, the cyber threats and attacks that are getting more and more worrisome.
The increase of space cyberattacks and cybersecurity risks is stemming from the evolution of the space ecosystem to the New Space Age.
In this first article of the series, we will focus on the New Space notion and the definition of space system architecture.
From old space to new space
Earlier, the space industry was a nation-level domain — and not just any nation; the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dominated the industry. Space was related to governments and defense departments, and the objectives were essentially political and strategic ones.
Now, there is more involvement in space globally than ever before in history. This new era, led by private space efforts, is known as “New Space Age” — a movement that views space not as a location or metaphor, but as well of resources, opportunities, and mysteries yet to be unlocked.
New Space is evolving rapidly with industry privatization and the birth of new ventures to achieve greater space accessibility for different parties.
Nevertheless, this development in technologies and the fast growth of New Space projects make the space attack surface larger and increase the threat risks in terms of cyberattacks.
Space and satellite systems
LEO and CubeSats
LEO is a circular orbit around the earth with an altitude of 2,000Km or less (1,200 miles).
Most LEO Space Vehicles (SV) are small satellites, also known as CubeSats or Smallsats.
A CubeSat is a small, low-cost satellite that can be developed and launched by colleges, high schools, and even individuals. The 1U (Unit) size of a CubeSat is (10cm x 10cm x 10cm) and weighs about 1Kg. A CubeSat can be used alone (1U) or in groups (up to 24 U).
CubeSats represent paradigm shifts in developing space missions in the New Space Age.
Nowadays, CubeSats, and all the other SV types, are facing different challenges: environmental challenges, operational challenges, and cybersecurity challenges.
Space system design
Any space system is composed of three main segments: ground segment, space segment, and link segment. In addition, we have the user segment.
Space System Design (Source: Space Security Info)
Ground segment: The ground segment includes all the terrestrial elements of the space systems and allows the command, control, and management of the satellite itself and the data coming from the payload and transmitted to the users.
Space segment: The space segment includes the satellites, tracking, telemetry, command, control, monitoring, and related facilities and equipment used to support the satellite’s operations.
Link/communication segment: The link or communication segment is the data and signals exchanged between the ground and space segments.
User segment: The user segment includes user terminals and stations that can launch operations with the satellite in the form of signal transmissions and receptions.
The New Space age makes the space field more accessible to everyone on this planet. It’s about democratizing access to space.
This new age was characterized by the increase of Smallsats development and especially CubeSats in LEO. These types of satellites are part of the space architecture in addition to the ground, communication, and user segments. Nevertheless, is this space system design threatened by cyberattacks?
In the next article in the series, we will explore the answer to this question.