On-Orbit Experimental Assets Push to Mature Understanding of Space Cybersecurity Principles

Nearly a decade ago, General Hyten implored US policymakers to focus on space control and BMC2 at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting. Since the hearing in 2016, there have been a number of strides in the space security realm including Space Policy Directive 5 which outlines key principles for Space Cybersecurity.

Unlike traditional destructive space testing of ASATs, a number of companies are developing solutions to provide on-orbit testbeds for cybersecurity. In June 2023, Aerospace Corporation launched the Moonlighter cybersecurity satellite, which will serve as a testbed for future space platforms.

The Moonlighter satellite will be the primary focus for Hack-A-Sat, a public Capture-the-Flag (CTF) competition to help identify vulnerabilities and build more secure space systems. The joint Aerospace Corporation, Space Systems Command, ISS National Laboratory, and AFRL payload is not the first on-orbit cybersecurity testbed and nor will it be the last.

Another space security company, True Anomaly Inc, unveiled two solutions to provide hybrid virtual and on-orbit testbeds for space security. The upcoming launch of the Jackal Autonomous Operating Vehicles and their Digital range will allow space operators to test new attack vectors and TTPs against emulated real-world threats.

General Hyten’s call-to-action has been answered and the industry is entering a critical period of learning for space cybersecurity advancements in the coming years.