NASA is Developing Satellites with a Hive Mind

NASA Works to Give Satellite Swarms a Hive Mind

What’s better than 1 satellite? A constellation of satellites! Scientists, companies, and the government have been deploying constellations of satellites for decades now, a collection of multiple satellites which all work together to achieve one goal. Satellite constellations are able to address many of the weaknesses of a single satellite, namely coverage and availability to the ground.

NASA is looking to take that a step further with a program proposed by Sabrina Thompson at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. She wants to create satellites with a hive mind, using machine learning algorithms to control a group of satellites to act as one, swarming together to achieve certain goals. These satellites could effectively revolutionize our understanding of weather and climate by collecting data on important weather patterns during certain times of the day or year. With multiple satellites working together, Thompson claims, we could “see [a] cloud at different stages of its life-cycle”, for example.

This proposed program has some interesting security concerns. The technology itself could definitely be of interest to other nation states, making it a high priority target for attackers. If the satellites are communicating with and controlling each other, an attack on one satellite could potentially impact multiple satellites or even the entire constellation. An attacker could hijack the communication system to flood the constellation with bad or bogus commands. An attack like this could be of interest to thrill seekers or activists.

In this type of proposed scientific system, the most critical out of the three (critical systems, critical networks, critical data) is the scientific data itself. However, it may be the critical systems which are most of interest to attackers, who want to utilize the technology itself rather than the data collected.

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