U.S. Space Command Sets Sights on more Agile Platforms for Space Reconnaissance

A recent article published on spacenews.com covers a speech given by the U.S. Space Command deputy commander, Lt. Gen. John Shaw, in which Shaw describes how he envisions the future of U.S. intelligence satellite architecture. In his speech, Shaw mentions the current methodology for space assets is to minimize required movements in orbit in order to preserve precious fuel – which often results in the end of service life of a satellite once depleted. Shaw mentioned this is particularly constraining for the government’s most expensive and valuable assets: geosynchronous situational awareness satellites which are made to last for decades at a time. Instead, Shaw proposes future assets that will need to become more maneuverable so they can adapt to specific situations and better monitor the activities of our adversaries.

Shaw mentions several possible solutions to accomplish this goal including refueling ports on new satellites that allow them to be replenished in orbit and lower cost satellites that would burn fuel quickly and be replaced at faster intervals. Ultimately the solution would be formed through efforts taken on by the Space Force, but Shaw is hoping for preliminary demonstrations for sustained space maneuvers by 2026.

The cybersecurity implications of this shift in thinking will cut both ways. On the positive side – more maneuverable satellites would potentially fair better against any brute physical or energetic attacks to damage or destroy. The additional maneuverability would allow them to move out of harms way if need be. Alternatively, there are several new vulnerabilities that could be introduced using this new approach. First, we may see more attention from attackers to access thrusters and take advantage of the additional fuel to throw a satellite out of orbit. Additionally, Shaw mentions the use of a “commercial refueling services”. Services like these would add many more points of entry to a potential attack – since the refueling vehicles could be compromised themselves or act as trojan horses when interfacing to expensive assets in orbit. There would need to be established security protocol in place in order to ensure the commercial refueling device poses no harm to the satellite asset it is refueling.

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