Orbital Reef raises questions on the future of civilian space


On Monday, October 25th, spaceflight company Blue Origin announced its effort to construct a space station known as Orbital Reef. The New York Times coverage of this announcement alludes to the rising competition in the civilian space sector: several other private entities, including Lockheed Martin and Axiom Space, have announced similar plans. These opportunistic companies are locked in competition for the attention of NASA, which is looking to replace the now-aging ISS. This announcement comes in the wake of NASA picking SpaceX over Blue Origin in its lunar lander bid.

The arrival of civilian space stations is all but a reality at this point, prompting an examination of the cyber risks inherent to such ventures. One apparent risk is the immense supply chain required for constructing a space station–every party involved is another vector for an adversary to compromise the project. Additionally, space stations come with various geopolitical altercations–Blue Origin, for instance, has discussed partnership with the U.A.E., which may dissuade NASA from considering it a completely American trusted asset.

Human habitation raises the stakes of cyber conflict in space, making policy and guidelines a top priority for ensuring the civilian space sector is a safe. Unfortunately, the unavoidable lack of precedent makes writing such policy a challenge.