Next Generation GOES Satellites to be Developed by Lockheed Martin

By: Jordan Buck, 2024-06-23

Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract announced June 18, 2024 by NASA on behalf of NOAA to develop and build the GeoXO satellite constellation. This contract is estimated at a value of $2.27 billion if all options are exercised.

The Geostationary Extended Observations (GeoXO) constellation is the next generation version of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series. Lockheed Martin had previously built the GOES series, with the final version GOES-U launching on June 25, 2024.

The GeoXO satellites will enhance visible imagery, lightning mapping, and infrared imagery compared to the previous iterations. They will also have new capabilities for hyperspectral sounding, nighttime imagery, and monitoring of oceanic and atmospheric conditions.

The first GeoXO satellite is planned to launch in the early 2030s, with operations expected through the late 2050s. The satellites will utilize the modernized LM2100 satellite bus.

Cybersecurity Implications

From a cybersecurity perspective, there is no initial mention of how the communications and large downlink will be handled. These GeoXO satellites are geostationary satellites, essentially fixed targets compared to other orbits. This eliminates some complexities in terms of programming variable communication windows and access, but does add the operational constraint that all access must physically be to a line-of-sight vantage point to the satellite.

These satellites are large, highly visible projects that have national coverage and usage. Additionally, the constellation is small, comprised of 3, up to 7, satellites. Any attack that disables the satellites would be crippling to the data services and information they provide. The fallback option would have to be using older, legacy GOES-R systems until a path forward is identified.

In terms of the communication itself, data emanating from large weather satellites such as GOES-R is broadcasted widely. Certain data is real-time to many agencies, and there are frequent periodic updates to publicly available and downloadable information. Any exposed vulnerabilities leading to injected data/messages would be instantly and widely disseminated to many end users.

The satellites are based on the LM2100 bus from Lockheed Martin. This is the same bus used for the previous GOES-R generation satellites too, including more than 30 other legacy spacecraft. The bus itself, from its datasheet, incorporates an Uplink/Downlink Unit (UDU) that is able to interface with the ground, “providing encryption as needed.” This is the only mention of cybersecurity in the entire datasheet, but even that does not provide specific guarantees, compliance, or sales promises that a customer may be seeking. There is most likely more information but not publicly available. Any attack or vulnerability in the bus system may lead to the compromise of many systems due to having this shared architecture.

Lastly, the expected long lifetime means the hardware will be quickly aging and may not hold up to the test of time. While not unique to this series, consideration for ensuring that the satellite can be protected for as long as possible should be taken into account for the design, operations, and maintenance of this new GeoXO satellite constellation.