NASA says US needs to invest in nuclear powered spacecraft

At a government hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 20, NASA officials discussed how the US needs to invest more in nuclear propulsion systems for space use in order to stay ahead of competitors, such as China. Bhavya Lal, NASA’s senior advisor for budget and finance, stated in the hearing that “The United States needs to move at a fast pace to stay competitive and to remain a leader in the global space community.” NASA has previously discussed using nuclear propulsion to send astronauts to Mars, discussing how nuclear electric or thermal systems are capable of producing high amounts of thrust for a very small amount of propellant compared to traditional propulsion systems. There are some challenges to developing this technology, mainly materials challenges – new materials need to be developed or discovered which are capable of withstanding both the demands of a nuclear power environment and the punishing environment of space. However, scientists at NASA believe these challenges are quite solvable, given the needed time, effort, and funding.

The development of and focus on this new technology definitely has cybersecurity implications. With the development of any cutting edge new technology, especially one with a focus on staying ahead of competitors, there is bound to be a strong desire to keep the scientific details classified on the US’s side, and to use cybersecurity based attacks to obtain this information on the competitors’ side. Competitors could include industry actors, but in this case will most likely be other nation states. The focus will be on the information itself, meaning people focused attacks such as phishing, to obtain information from NASA or space industry actors who are developing this technology. While NASA is a scientific organization, there will still be a focus from the government on keeping this information hidden in order to give the US a leg up in the modern “space race”.

Critical data will be impacted in a potential cybersecurity attack, with potentially company or government IP at risk. The data at risk could be research, designs, or data gathered in the process of developing the technology. Even the identify of the individuals who were at the forefront of developing this technology is critical information that competitors could use to headhunt scientists or engineers,