Private Industry aims to fill demand for space threat Intelligence

What I read about:  This week, I read, “Private Industry aims to fill demand for space threat Intelligence.”  The article discusses how commercial innovations in Space Domain Awareness 

could help the DoD and intelligence community.  The article summarized the demand for surveillance and vendors being concerned about sole-source contracting for services and dependencies on a small group of contractors.  

Why it’s interesting:  This is interesting to me because it highlights a need for the USG to “understand potential adversaries on orbit, their capabilities, their weapons, their operations, tactics and intentions” [1] and a very frustrating problem for many people who have worked for or with the government; procurement.  While it may be a verb, procurement is often discussed because of its lack of action.  The system is exceptionally nuanced, to say the least, and can take a contract law degree to understand.  In this case, the industry is worried about one company reaping the benefits of a big space contract and locking the government in for the long haul because” if the government buys a system, typically only that contractor can do software upgrades and maintenance”  [1].  Sole sourcing the contract would limit the industry growth within the DoD or even what might be proposed to the government.  One proposed solution recommended by the article to keep the industry happy and help the government is “analysis and insights sold as a subscription service” [1].  Back to the root problem, though, situational awareness in space.  What is going on, and who is doing what.  From the DoD perspective, we need to be able to tell the good from the bad.  According to Acting Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of State Eric Desautels current SSA is “not precise enough to be able to differentiate between benign and potentially nefarious activities” [1].  This is a problem in a rapidly changing space environment where satellites are being deployed with robot arms and countries are doing things that could be perceived as threats.  To ensure an accurate picture of space, the US needs to be able to identify friends from foes and characterize activities in space rapidly. 

Security Implications of the thing I read:  Some security implications of the things I read are both physical (shocking to say about assets hundreds of miles over our heads) and information security threats for the US.  First is the physical threat to satellites.  China moved one of its inoperable satellites thousands of miles to a new orbit.  While this may seem like “space junk” removal, it leaves the question about what other satellites might be able to grab and move to a different orbit, capture, or cause orbit decay/early burn-up.  Other articles about the move stated this is less of a good faith removal and more a show of force/capability.  Also, Russian satellites “conducting proximity operations” to US satellites raises other questions about why they might be conducting these operations.  With correct ephemeris data, you can know where and when a satellite will be in the sky.  We already discussed in class that some satellites (most likely not national assets) accept connections from a ground station if they can transmit the proper signal.  If the adversary satellite is close enough to a satellite, could it potentially spy on it and its operations?  While this could be a national security concern for national assets, it could also be a concern for commercial satellites.  Many articles, including this one, discuss commercial ventures into space.  But commercial companies operate to make profits and may have a different outlook on space cybersecurity vs. profit margins.  Google, Microsoft, and Apple are beginning to venture out of the atmosphere.  Apple will soon offer SATCOM-based emergency assistance 911-type requests from personal devices as their first step into space.  As the market grows, more and more intellectual property, proprietary, and personal information may be available to attackers if it is not protected correctly. Without having space situational awareness, there would be no way to determine if any country is operating in nefarious ways to access,  steal information, or even grab a satellite out of orbit to see how it works.   This is why commercial/industry professionals have already developed awareness tools and programs that could benefit DoD security and commercial assets contracted to provide that information or subscriptions.


[1] S. Erwin, “Private industry aims to fill demand for space threat intelligence,” Sep. 18, 2022. (accessed Sep. 18, 2022).