Safeguarding Space

November 8, 2023
Safeguarding Space

As we further our travels into space, the need for security among our space assets is becoming increasingly important. The rapid growth of space exploration and satellite deployment brings with it many potential threats, and to combat these, we will rely heavily on innovative technologies. 

Satellite Security 

Satellites are a vital part of space security, providing services such as communication, navigation, and weather monitoring. However, these assets are not immune to threats.  

Though satellites float through the atmosphere, they are operated and controlled by ground-based facilities that are at risk for cybercriminal access. At a ground-based facility, “…if a malicious actor is able to interrupt the satellite signal they may be able to gain access to any downstream systems connected to the satellite.” In addition to this, IoT devices that use satellite communications to connect can be especially vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.  

Because of these holes in the satellite network, technologies like advanced encryption algorithms and secure communication protocols are needed.

Additionally, the development of autonomous satellite protection systems enables real-time threat detection and response, reducing the risk of satellite interference and ensuring uninterrupted services vital for our world. These technologies play a massive role in safeguarding satellites from cyber threats and unauthorized access. 

Space Traffic Management 

There are 4,852 active satellites and more than 7,000 old, inactive satellites in space. With an increasing number of satellites, space debris, and space tourism ventures, managing space has become a complex task, which is why space traffic management is so important.  

Enter new technologies like advanced tracking systems, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which enable precise monitoring of space objects. AI can aid in space traffic management by “…observing, analyzing, deciding and implementing safety and security-relevant data and actions…”. The implementation of AI and machine learning helps smooth out the speed and accuracy of each step in the process of space traffic management.  

Specifically, these technologies assist in predicting potential collisions and orchestrating safe maneuvers to avoid space debris, thereby minimizing the risk of satellite collisions and the creation of more debris.  

To learn more about why Space Traffic Management is vital and the ways we are tackling it in the future, read our blog ‘Why is Space Domain Awareness Important? 


As our dependence on space-based technologies grows, so does the risk of cyber threats, so securing space assets from malevolent cyber activities is an important endeavor. The use of cybersecurity measures involves the use of secure communication channels, intrusion detection systems, and regular security audits to identify and address vulnerabilities. 

Spacecraft and satellite manufacturers are now integrating secure-by-design principles, ensuring cybersecurity is considered from the initial design phase. A secure-by-design principle minimizes the risk of exploitation and enhances the overall resilience of space systems against cyber threats from the moment they are launched. 

Quantum Communication 

Quantum communication plays a key role in the security of space-based communication systems, making it a necessary technology for maintaining space safety.  

Traditional communication methods rely on bits, which can be intercepted and compromised by adversaries using advanced technologies. Quantum communication, on the other hand, utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics to transmit information in a highly secure way.  

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), an application of quantum communication, creates unbreakable encryption keys by using the quantum properties of entanglement and superposition. Essentially, this means that any attempt to eavesdrop on quantum-encrypted transmissions would disturb the quantum state, alerting both the sender and receiver to security breaches. 

Using quantum entanglement, the method of communication described above, communication systems can establish secure channels for communicating sensitive information between satellites, ground stations, and other space entities.  

The use of quantum communication in space not only enhances the confidentiality of communications but also safeguards critical infrastructures such as satellite networks, space missions, and satellite-based observations from potential cyber threats.  

Resilient Space Systems 

Designing and building resilient space systems that are able to ”bounce back” from a cybersecurity attack or technical issue is invaluable.  This means having backup systems for critical functions. If one part fails, there’s another ready to take over. In addition, if part of the system is compromised, it can be isolated to prevent the entire system from failing. Most importantly, these systems can quickly detect and respond to cyber threats.  

By making space systems resilient, we can ensure that even if there is a cyber-attack or technical glitch, the impact is minimized, and the space mission can continue without disruptions.  

Tackling This Challenge 

As we look to the future, the integration of cutting-edge technologies will be key in keeping dominance in the space domain. The prioritization of these technologies is evident through the government releasing initiatives, policies, and project proposals aimed at safeguarding space assets. 

For example, Data Exploitation and Enhanced Processing for Space Domain Awareness (DEEP SDA), a project awarded under the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) Other Transaction Authority (OTA), is designed to fill gaps in space domain coverage. It aims to do this by leveraging existing star trackers for collecting and exploiting data in real-time.

Star trackers, traditionally used for orientation and navigation, are repurposed to collect and analyze data that might otherwise go unnoticed. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the space domain, giving operators the insights needed to safeguard U.S. government on-orbit space systems. By embracing advancements like this, we not only protect our space assets but also contribute to a safer and more secure future for all. 

In an era where the strategic importance of space cannot be overstated, technological advancements like those awarded under SpEC are crucial for space security. The SpEC OTA leverages the innovative technologies from our community. By pushing the boundaries of traditional government contracting, we deliver the best solutions without wasting time or money. Driven by a shared passion to quickly deliver critical technologies to the end-user, we are redefining government and industry collaboration. 

If you are interested in pursuing upcoming opportunities with the federal government, NSTXL can help you get started. Learn more about membership at NSTXL here.

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