Space Development Agency Seeking Satellite Constellation Operators

An artist’s rendition of a SpaceX satellite constellation.

Article: Space Development Agency to release new solicitation for constellation ground segment – SpaceNews

The Space Development Agency (SDA), a directorate of the Department of Defense, is looking for proposals for ground operations and integration as part of its proposed Transport Layer Tranche 1 low-orbit satellite constellation. The winning contractor would be responsible for the integration of ground stations and operating the 144 satellites in the constellation, done by setting up, operating, and maintaining network operations centers (NOCs; pronounced “knock”) in government facilities. This comes as the SDA looks at choosing the manufacturers to supply 126 of the satellites and buying the remaining 18 to host experimental payloads, and the final request is going to be after the satellite manufacture contracts are awarded, potentially in January or February.

My biggest concern comes from the use of already-existing government facilities. As NOCs are the first line of defense against various network failures and disruptions, whoever wins this contract will have access to SDA networks and potentially, depending on if the facilities are exclusively for the SDA or not, networks that serve the greater DoD. Essentially, the SDA could be handing the keys to critical data over to a private company. Therefore, failure to maintain strict cybersecurity practices and protocols could not only compromise data related to Tranche 1, but whatever DoD data is handled in those facilities. Ground stations can be enticing targets for those looking to compromise space missions, as it is, but using existing facilities (unless these facilities are already exclusively space-related) could paint a bigger target for cybercriminals. The SDA should, as a result, ensure that the selected contractor takes cybersecurity seriously and emphasize that requirement in the final request for proposals. Cyber can often fall to the wayside to make room for other priorities, but it is of stratospheric importance, especially where there is potential for widespread damage beyond the scope of the project.