Virgin Galactic Cleared for Takeoff

As many people have heard, Virgin Galactic had a successful test flight of their suborbital plane, VSS Unity, on July 11th, with their CEO on board. However, following the historic test flight, the FAA launched a six week investigation into the flight due to the Unity veering out of its designated flight space during its descent. “The FAA required Virgin Galactic to implement changes on how it communicates to the FAA during flight operations to keep the public safe,” reported the FAA in a statement.

This incident raises larger questions about who regulates spaceflight and what those regulations should be. As a brand new industry, there is yet to be a lot of critical government regulation, especially regarding commercial manned spaceflight. Considering the relative danger and exceptional cost of spaceflight, it is of paramount importance that more regulation be put into place to protect human lives – but as seen throughout history, regulation tends to be reactive. Until stronger regulation is in place, commercial spaceflight could be a cybersecurity target to take advantage of decreased safety standards. Commercial spaceflight industries may be a target for other nation states or competitors looking to steal technology as the industry grows and becomes more viable. Targeted or phishing attacks are common in the industry, as well as recruiting/stealing key engineers. With less regulation, however, some threat actors could be looking to threaten human lives by targeting this industry.

Critical systems are most at risk to be impacted here, as regulation and policy are an important part of the space vehicle ecosystem. A security flaw or breach affecting commercial spaceflight has the potential for far reaching impact that could shut down the sector for months while better regulation and industry security are developed. Critical data also has the potential to be impacted, if human spaceflight technology is stolen by competitors or nation states.

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