I recently had the opportunity to attend a Mitchell Space Breakfast event that featured Mr. Stephen Kitay, the Deputy Assistant of the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. Ever since I published a full recap of that event and Mr. Kitay’s remarks on the Government Satellite Report last week, I wanted to touch briefly on something that he mentioned, which was that space currently has, “an energy and excitement that is nothing short of remarkable.”
That might now seem like a particularly interesting or insightful thing to say. It could come off as simple pandering to a room full of satellite professionals. But it’s quite true and becoming increasingly obvious to even the casual observer. At a time when space exploration and advancements in space and satellite technology are no longer dominating the news or making headlines, we’ve quietly seen a huge resurgence in both interest and investment in space.
That interest isn’t just on behalf of the federal government, either. A new generation of satellites and new satellite technologies are opening the door for satellite to deliver the IT services that many with high speed broadband connections take for granted to every corner of the globe. Advances in technology and robotics are also creating smaller, cheaper satellites and even satellites that can service and refuel other satellites. All the while, the emergence of new companies in the commercial launch space is making access to space cheaper.
The industry is rapidly evolving, and that change is generating a lot of excitement across the government, military and the industry itself. We’re excited to document these changes and chronicle where the industry goes next.
Here are some of the most interesting satellite articles that we saw in the past few weeks, which prove that satellite is one of the busiest and most interesting industries today:
US Air Force to put sensors on allies’ satellites
Every government-focused satellite conference or event that we attend eventually hits on the topic of mission assurance in space and defending our satellite infrastructure. It’s become an essential topic and major challenge for our military as adversaries have grown increasingly capable of denying satellite communications and capabilities, and our warfighters have grown ever more reliant on IT-enabled tools and services.
This article in Defense One discusses steps that our military is taking to help ensure mission assurance in space, and it’s something that we’ve discussed frequently in the past on the Government Satellite Report – hosted payloads.
We’ve speculated in the past that putting military payloads on other satellites – including commercial satellites – could make it harder for adversaries to target and deny satellite capabilities, and that’s exactly what the military is looking to do. However, instead of just using commercial satellites, they’re placing sensors on satellites belonging to our allies.
This is an exciting step that – if proven useful – could expand to the military placing sensors and transponders on commercial satellites with increased frequency in the future. The benefit would be an integrated satellite architecture of commercial, allied and military-owned satellites that would be almost impossible to fully compromise and that could very quickly fill military satellite requirements should a military satellite be denied.
ESA and SES-led consortium to develop satellite-based cybersecurity
The military has other concerns about the safety and security of satellites and satellite communications aside from the jamming of satellites or adversaries shooting them down. One of those concerns involves cybersecurity and satellite signals being intercepted or altered.
You could imagine the chaos and problems that could emerge for U.S. soldiers if they received inaccurate information via satellite from one of our adversaries, or if their locations or other sensitive information was intercepted. This is the reality that the military is looking to avoid.
Well, the European Space Agency (ESA) and a consortium of satellite providers and satellite technology companies are now teaming up in an effort to increase the security of satellites and satellite communications. The consortium, which is being led by satellite communications provider, SES, will seek to develop, “a system that will allow the generation of encryption keys from space, as well as their secure transmission to users on Earth via laser.”
The system has been named the Quantum Cryptography Telecommunication System (QUARTZ), and it is intended to be, “a new platform aimed at providing a global service for next-generation encryption keys for use in geographically dispersed networks. “
Defense Department turning over space traffic management to Commerce, but details still unclear
All of that excitement and new activity in space that we mentioned before comes with a price. There are 1,500 active satellites in orbit already, and there are new satellite companies out there proposing to launch constellations that will add thousands more across multiple orbits.
Every one of those new satellites creates a new challenge for the folks that work to ensure that satellites don’t hit each other and that traffic and congestion in space doesn’t result in the same kind of calamities as traffic and congestion on our roads and highways.
To this end, the DoD has announced that it will be turning over the management of space traffic to an unlikely new ally, the Department of Commerce. Details on the transition remain somewhat unclear and it’s not entirely known how and when the transition will be completed, but it’s a move that many in the industry are considering a positive step forward that will help encourage continued private investment in space.
As Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy told SpaceNews. “The good news is that several years ago this same committee was clearly against DoD ever losing control of this vital function. So I would say that this represents true progress in moving this inherently civil function to a civil agency.”