Are Commercial Servicing Vehicles coming to destroy your satellite?

On National Security | Commercial in-orbit vehicles caught in the space arms crossfire
by Sandra Erwin — September 16, 2022

The above article written by Ms Erwin presents an interesting catch 22. SpaceLogisitics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, has two mission extension servicing vehicles for Intelsat. Essentially these vehicles were designed to work with the Intelsat in GEO in service it. In this case these vehicles were specifically contracted out and designed for Intelsat, and just Intelsat. BUT they want to be more modular, make one Satellite servicing robot to service them all. So why does National Security Space, and more importantly this class care? Because robots in space can be used for good or for evil.

The article goes on to point out “A key problem for the satellite-servicing industry is that major space powers can’t agree on a definition of a space weapon.”. Again, why do we care? Because there are no regulations when it comes to space robots. So a commercial servicing vehicle could be seen as a front for an anti satellite robot coming to clip off your solar panels. Also because something that is launched and operated as a servicing vehicle could also be co-opted, via a cyber attack on its command and control system, to destroy the vehicle that it was supposed to be servicing. Servicing vehicles are created for the expensive, high national interest, one of the kind satellite.

Why would a servicing company, or a satellite provider pay to service a cheep satellite (think of it as insurance evaluating that $10,000 of damages was done to your nissan only worth $5,000, its going to just be a total loss). But a servicing satellite going up to fix a key infrastructure satellite, that is something. If the servicing satellite is compromised it could take out a target, with less cost to the bad actor than shooting a missile at it.

In orbit servicing is fantastic way to extend the life of a vehicle. But it should be treated with the same strict care as the most valued vehicle it could be serving, to include strict security protocol.