NASA Extends Starliner Stay at ISS for Additional Testing

Nasa and Boeing will be extending Starliner’s stay at the International Space Station to conduct additional experiments and finalize departure plans. Both NASA and Boeing have assured the public that the mission has enough margin to be extended these four days to perform the science desired. While at a surface level that may sound like a positive, it would appear to me that the real reason the mission is extending is to continue to operate the thrusters onboard the spacecraft. The article details the issues that Starliner’s thrusters had during the mission, stating that five of the eight thrusters were aborted during the mission due to the spacecraft onboard computer observing out of bound readings. Only four were able to be turned back online to complete spacecraft docking. The question I raise regarding space cyber as it relates to the Starliner mission, and by extension Dragon missions, is: what sorts of cyber protections (if any) are built into these systems?

Given that the Starliner and Dragon spacecraft are responsible for ferrying humans to and from the International Space Station, these missions are designed with the highest scrutiny. With human lives at stake, space cyber should be seriously considered during design and requirements formulation for these types of spacecraft. It should be the responsibility of NASA to ensure that spacecraft of this nature (including the ISS itself) are protected from space cyber threats. I would argue that the most likely cyber threat actors for human-grade spacecraft are nation states. Hacktivists and thrill seekers are less likely to enjoy the art of hacking if they are putting human lives at risk. Nation-states or terror groups, on the other hand, may have desires to jeopardize human lives to demonstrate their capabilities to the world and gain publicity. It will be interesting to see how/when NASA begins to force space cyber requirements into their missions.