Cybersecurity and Spacesuits

NASA Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU)

Sources: 1) 2) 3)

This week, an article about an EVA suit malfunction had caught my attention in regards to cybersecurity implications. On August 17, two Russian cosmonauts were performing EVAs to make upgrades on the ISS European robotic arm. One of the cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, had a low battery warning on his EVA suit, which eventually cut short of the repair mission. The issue was traced to an electrical system flaw on the EVA suit that caused an unexpected drop in the battery level of the suit. Upon learning this issue, the ground control had informed Oleg to “drop everything and go back to the ISS.”

While the incident fortunately did not cause any significant danger to the ISS or the cosmonauts, the EVA suits used by both the US and Russia are relatively old, with the US using the same batch of suits for the last 4 decades. NASA had called for a new batch of upgrades by designing its own suit via the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) program. In addition, NASA had also called for commercial partners via the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) program, which awarded contracts for Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace.

With this huge batch upgrade of EVA suits, I anticipate a move from older, more analog space suits to newer, more connected space suits. This upgrade could draw a parallel to the evolution of modern cars. We know these more connected cars have cybersecurity issues with known hackers taking control over vehicles remotely. I imagine the newer space suits to have capabilities for remote firmware upgrades given the “high speed data communications” feature as shown in the image above. Without a diligent approach to cybersecurity for these EVA suits, we could put human lives in danger, while they are out in particularly vulnerable environment outside of a spacecraft.