For years, space assets have played a role in protecting our national security – by providing our nation and other’s with strategic warning information, assured communication capabilities, and precision positioning, navigation and timing data.
Space is becoming increasingly more congested, contested and competitive. In this first installment of our two-part series on Space Resiliency, we’ll address how this issue presents opportunities for greater technology innovation, while also recognizing how veritable threats in space – both deliberate and unintentional – can negatively impact our national security.
We often think about our safety in terms of hostilities on the ground or data breaches in the cyberworld, but rarely do we consider threats that exist in space. These can include our adversaries sending assets into space to block signals like GPS, which could damage our satellites, disrupt our communication, or compromise our data. Other threats, like increasing quantities of floating space debris, radiation that can accelerate the aging of the electronic parts and materials, or natural or human sources can also damage our assets.
The need to be resilient – to survive in the space environment by adapting, maneuvering, defending and protecting our space assets – is more important than ever. And the conversation on what we need to do to achieve space resiliency is only just beginning.
Chief concerns to our security
Regardless of an asset’s mission, anything that we put into space needs to be closely monitored. According to Ricardo Gonzalez, director of Space Products & Processing (SP&P) at BAE Systems, “With more nations, debris, activity and hardware in space, it’s imperative that we step up our activity to provide the resiliency necessary to protect our assets so they’re available when needed.”
Three main areas of concern could alter or impede the success of our assets:
- Space interference. Radio jamming that prevents our communication, lasers used to blind or burn electronics, or co-orbital assets that block our ability to function effectively are all examples of this.
- Data corruption and interception. The U.S. produces and relies on a large quantity and variety of data from our space assets – and we run the risk of cyber-attacks, spying, eavesdropping, or network degradation. There is always the possibility that our networks could be overtaken, or flooded with extraneous data that could impede our ability to communicate using space-based technology, as we do now.
- Robustness of our space technologies – meaning, not only must our technologies withstand the harsh space radiation environment over extended periods of time, but we also need to protect our assets from damage or destruction. Anti-satellite weapons, other physical attacks, or space debris are serious risks to space missions, and it’s imperative that we architect our systems so that they are nimble enough to avoid these types of hazards.
Combating and managing threats
Evolving resiliency requires an understanding that we need to be able to detect threats and then quickly do something about them. In the second half of this two-part series, we will detail the key areas that we and our peers must have the ability to ensure space resiliency and national security.