Astra’s Security Concerns

by Samuel Lefcourt

1. Categories of Concern

  • Space Vehicle
  • Communication Signal

2. Summary

  • Article referenced and image credit: Astra Rocket 3.3 launch fails, SpaceNews,
  • Astra is a public space company that aims to create inexpensive rocket launches through the use of electric propulsion for their automated rockets that will deliver packages to their customers, dubbed the FedEx of space. 
  • The article touches on Astra’s most recent launch of rocket model 3.3, which is the latest addition in their Rocket 3 series.  This series consists of 5 electric-pump-fed engines and a pressure-fed engine.  Within a second of ignition, one of the electric-pump-fed engines failed.  This led the rocket to move horizontally, rather than a normal vertical liftoff. 
  • Impressively, the rocket recovered through the use of its guidance system.  It then ascended for two and a half minutes before the command center allowed it to terminate and fall into the ocean. 

3. Cybersecurity Implications

  • Disclaimer: Astra does not explain in-depth their architecture.  I believe they have a guidance system on an edge device attached to the rocket, while the ground station provides the rocket with its destination.
  • Cyber-crime groups may aim to disrupt the guidance system and hold the rocket, including its contents, hostage using denial of service attacks.  The groups may follow this line of thinking: clients of a space transportation company will certainly have enough funds to provide ransom.  Additionally, they may use an advanced persistent threat to attack the ground station so that the rocket does not know where to go or provide an incorrect location.
  • Terror groups could also want to breach the station’s software and alter the destination to strike an enemy rather than land safely.  Controlling a rocket would certainly strike fear into the public and issue a warning to the new companies breaking into the space industry.  They could also issue an AI System Attack, assuming that Astra utilizes some machine learning in their guidance program.
  • Thrill seekers love showing off. Stalling a rocket using a DOS attack, even momentarily, may satisfy their desire.

4. Potential Impact

  • The most critical systems are the space vehicle (if the guidance system is on the edge) and also the ground station since they serve to guide the rocket and ensure that it reaches its destination safely and does not danger the environment it passes through.

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