Why commercial space should be designated as critical infrastructure
The U.S. has approximately 1,300 satellites orbiting the earth. Since 2019, SpaceX has launched over 1,000 satellites into low earth orbit in an attempt to provide high-speed broadband internet to the world, with the eventual goal of 12,000 in total. Amazon has a similar project in development. Euroconsult, a global consulting firm specializing in space markets, anticipates that a yearly average of 990 satellites will be launched by 2028.
With so many satellites in orbit, what is being done to protect their integrity from potential attacks?
Frank Konkel, in an article for NextGov, reported that several officials speaking at The Aspen Institute Cyber Summit have requested that the U.S. “classify certain space satellites, sensors and their command and control systems as critical infrastructure systems.”
The driving force behind the recommendation is the ever-growing reliance that Americans – from the highest level of government to the everyday internet user – have on satellites. GPS, weather, cloud computing, and 5G cellular networks all rely on satellites to function.
“Erin Miller, vice president of the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center, said cybersecurity vulnerabilities to the commercial space sector will increase significantly as technological capabilities expand across—and above—the Earth,” reported Konkel.
Miller said she expects the global space economy to exceed $1 trillion by 2040, with the majority of the revenue coming from commercial, not government-funded, sources.
“Because we know there are vulnerabilities in every system, the broader expansion across the globe of space systems allows for a larger attack vector,” Miller said.
There are sixteen existing critical infrastructure sectors. Some cover areas related to satellites, like communications and information technology, but no commercial space-specific sector. The experts at the conference proposed that this could be remediated in one of two ways:
- Amending the existing law to designate commercial space as its own critical infrastructure
- Designating space infrastructure as a subset of an existing sector.
The concerns of the experts are not unfounded. In 2020, there were at least three instances of Russia testing an apparent space-based anti-satellite weapon.
“In February, the U.S. Space Force spotted these Russian satellites following a U.S. spy satellite, behavior that Space Force commander Gen. John "Jay" Raymond described at the time as ‘unusual and disturbing’,” reported space.com. This was followed by further tests in April, July, and most recently in December.
Russia has now tested two different types of satellite weapons: missiles that launch from the ground and a space-based system.
“A national awareness about space and its importance in daily life will be the key to securing these systems,” said Ed Devinney, corporate director of cyber programs for Northrop Grumman, as reported by Konkel. “It’s important to build understanding and national coalescence that these systems must be secured.”
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