Standardization of Satellite Buses and Cybersecurity Implications

Source: Apex Space


In the satellite bus sector, there has been an increase in investments to fund efforts to standardize bus manufacturing. Satellites can be simplified into two major sub-systems. The first major part is the payload that conducts remote sensing or communications. The second major part is the satellite bus that provides power, thermal management, attitude determination, propulsion, and data transmission (some payloads have its own dedicated uplink and downlink capabilities). Traditionally, companies specialize in payload design and production. For the bus component, companies either built them in-house or purchase from third-party companies. This often leads to satellites busses being customized for the specific payloads.

Apex Space is a startup that wants to standardize the manufacturing of small satellite busses, providing a better service to payload customers through lower costs and more predictable development timelines. Apex is focusing on the 100 kg small satellite sector. Furthermore, Redwire, a publicly traded space holding company, had taken a majority stake in the satellite bus manufacturer York Space Systems (founded in 2014). This investment has valued York Space Systems at over $1B in valuation. Lockheed Martin had also invested $100M in another bus manufacturer company Terran Orbital (founded in 2013). These capital investments indicate an investor belief that satellite busses will move from custom built batches into a more predictable manufactured product.

The standardization of the satellite bus has a few interesting implications for cybersecurity. First, the technical design of the busses could benefit from more secured software with cybersecurity designed in place. This could help the common headache of cybersecurity best practices not being implemented uniformly. Second, the operations of these busses could benefit from the uniform technology platform, helping mission operators to better predict and defend against potential intrusion threats. Similarly, this could help the issue of having to manage different technologies across satellites. Third, as the overall satellite bus manufacturing industry further mature with more standardized platforms available to customers similar to the automotive industry, this could create a critical mass with a few commercial representatives to help establish and implement industry-wide cybersecurity best practices.