Hosted Payloads Offer Resiliency in a Cyberspace Threat Environment

(Second of a three-part series, click here for the first article.) One of the challenges of protecting orbiting satellites from cyber-attack, jamming and other threats is that the spacecraft operate in plain sight and transmit signals that can be picked up by anyone with the correct type of antenna. One solution to this is to have a “disaggregated” constellation of satellites, so that when one spacecraft is compromised, another can take its place in the communications chain.

Hosted payloads provide the most effective means of both creating a state-of-the-art, diverse space architecture and getting capabilities into space quickly at a low cost. Hosted payloads can play a key role in enhancing resiliency in space because they can be placed on diverse spacecraft at a wide range of orbital locations covering regions of the globe and can even be kept dormant until needed. This strategy, known as space-force enhancement, can improve the effectiveness of military operations as well as intelligence, civil or commercial missions.

By increasing the number of platforms and dispersing the capabilities, the military believes such a framework can enhance deterrence. And by using greater numbers of smaller platforms and orbital locations, hosted payloads can be a barrier to a potential adversary's attack calculus.

The goal of the commercial satellite industry is to leverage hosted payloads on commercial, international and allied platforms. The government is particularly interested in addressing gaps in the military satellite constellations that would support nuclear weapons monitoring and cover contested environments, as well as meeting the evolving demands of remotely-piloted aircraft. Placing military payloads on commercial satellites would provide assurance against emerging threats because a mixed space architecture can provide passive resilience while enabling protection in depth.  

Flexible "active" payloads can have the capability of shaping, steering, zooming, and spotting beams as well as flexible connectivity with multiple-element arrays. Such payloads can have beams that are re-configurable on orbit and that can be shaped to meet uplink requirements and isolate undesirable areas. Such beams can also be reconfigured to meet dynamic needs and can be steerable to meet changing missions or to null or isolate unwanted areas.

Because of the frequency of commercial satellite launches, such payloads have the latest technology and capabilities to meet the military customers’ needs. They can also save money compared to the government launching its own satellites. The Australian Defence Force estimated that it saved $150 million with this approach by contracting for a hosted UHF payload launched last year on the Intelsat 22 satellite.

Adopting hosted payloads as part of a disaggregated space architecture is a proactive approach to addressing the risks of the cyberspace threat environment. Intelsat recommends improved coordination between government and industry to create a well-conceived architectural concept to support reliability and security.

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