FCC Says to Deorbit Satellites Faster: Creation of a Hacker’s Paradise?

Source: Kerbal Space

1. https://payloadspace.com/fcc-considers-shortening-deorbit-deadline/
2. https://spacenews.com/fcc-to-set-five-year-deadline-for-deorbiting-leo-satellites/
3. https://www.space.com/kessler-syndrome-space-debris

Ever since I read about the Kessler Syndrome, I have been fascinated by the problem of space debris. In simple terms, Kessler Syndrome describes a phenomenon in which there is so much space debris (especially in LEO) that new debris are constantly generated via mutual collisions. Imagine a scenario where you can’t literally launch a spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere without hitting some sort of debris. Fortunately, there are entrepreneurs attempting to solve this problem (for example, Astroscale) via attempting to orbit capture and deorbit of space debris.

However, there is another practical approach to help manage space debris, and that is the process of responsibly deorbting spent satellites. Historically, NASA had instated a general guideline of deorbiting satellites after 25 years, which is a very long time. Recently, FCC is considering to set a five year deadline for deorbiting LEO satellites. While there are many challenges to this proposal (for example, satellite operators being locked into shorter asset lifespans), in theory, this requirement does force operators to think responsibly and timely about the eventual disposals of their space assets.

With a shorter lifespan in deorbiting, we may potentially create additional cybersecurity challenges in space. I think there are two main drivers that could create a hacker’s paradise. First, satellite operators may be forced to add propulsion subsystems onto their design for the deorbting phase of the satellite’s lifecycle. In the past, many satellites do not carry propulsion systems, and instead, rely on the natural atmospheric decay over a long 25-year lifespan. Second, by definition, spent satellites on the deorbit phase of their lifespan have much less useful value to the operators. Naturally, operators may invest more resources to manage the satellites in their fleet still in useful operating phases.

Therefore, these two drivers could create the perfect hacker’s paradise. With the increasing amount of assets going up into LEO, we could face an equally higher amount of satellites deorbiting after a shorter lifespan. With these satellites getting a more limited amount of its operator’s mind share, hacker’s could benefit from less cybersecurity protection. In addition, these satellites would have some sort of propulsion systems, making them kinetic weapons in LEO. Thus, we should not deprioritize the cybersecurity of these decaying satellites.