Sponsored: Preserving America’s Space Dominance Through Software
Before 1957, man had never placed a single object in space. Soon, tens of thousands of new artificial satellites will circle the Earth. Beyond a change in the sheer volume of satellites in space, the actors at center stage today are fundamentally different: a shift from humans and hardware to software and shoebox satellites.
A new space race is dawning. Luckily, the United States has an edge against competitors like China and Russia if it can keep it.
While space has long been important for GPS-based navigation services, predicting weather, humanitarian and military reconnaissance, and supplementing land-based telecommunications systems, our ability to function throughout our everyday lives is not wholly dependent on space infrastructure. However, before the end of the decade, we will become far more dependent. A significant portion of internet traffic will transit space, while governments, businesses and ordinary people will depend more on things like real-time motion imagery, all based in space.
Unfortunately, with complexity comes vulnerability. Furthermore, far more than marvels of engineering, satellites today ought to be thought of more as flying Linux computers. Advantage in space will be gained or lost based on the superiority of software rather than engineering and the daring of astronauts. And with that software-centric focus comes the same risks that we face from flawed software on Earth: cyber attacks and espionage.
The good news is that the United States leads in space and has the means to make space communications far more secure. Today, American companies have a dominant position in the new space economy – both in terms of a supportive business and government environment. Unfortunately, we are still subject to supply chain risk – both before and after launch, which can involve an adversary using one of our satellites to their advantage. Security is often one of the most expensive things to get right and also the least understood.
How to maintain the edge? The Biden administration should encourage a hybrid space architecture that understands the importance of security. This would involve not just the government using commercial satellites more extensively but the ability to communicate securely amongst them and our allied partners. Getting there will require a public-private communications strategy and architecture.
If it weren’t for the networking and security standards we apply today, the internet would just be a bunch of disconnected computers. The same could be true for the satellites of the space sector. To that end, we need to embrace serious policy around space security and consider what real measures of effectiveness satellites will have to meet.
Finally, the space industry should look past legacy systems and practices to entirely new capabilities to disrupt or counter disruption itself. By working together, government and business can prototype, test, and evaluate space applications that leapfrog a generation of satellite technology and keep America in the lead in this crucial field.
SpiderOak is hosting a SIGNAL Media webinar, Securing Mission Partner Environments (MPE’s) Over Untrusted Networks And Infrastructure, on May 20. Register for the webinar on the web.
Michael Campanelli is the vice president of Federal of SpiderOak, a secure-communications data and aerospace company.