According to intelligence services and experts, China and Russia are building missiles that might target US satellites in the low-Earth orbit. The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency, which aims to launch a network of satellites beyond missile range, would be concerned with this. The Space Development Agency’s director, Derek Tournear, stated on April 14 that the agency has looked at possible risks to its satellites and is more concerned with cyber assaults and supply chain encroachments than missile strikes.
SDA intends to deploy satellites into orbit in 2022, with the intention of placing hundreds in orbit by 2024 for communications as well as missile tracking. Tournear stated at a virtual Washington Space Business Roundtable conference that these spacecraft “would not be invulnerable” to ground-based weapons like ballistic missiles. However, he clarified that possessing a widespread network of dozens of satellites made the device more resistant to such assaults.
To take down such a massive constellation, an enemy will have to unleash a volley of missiles and risk severe retaliation. SDA’s satellites’ low expense, according to Tournear, will render them unattractive goals compared to DoD’s more expensive billion-dollar satellites in space. “We’ve totally reversed the math on that,” Tournear says, estimating that shooting down a satellite will cost more than the satellite itself.
As if one or a few satellites were lost, a vast network of dozens of satellites will continue to operate. On the other side, a cyber threat, according to Tournear, may be crippling. “I am worried about two threats: cyber as well as supply chain,” he added. Cyber and supply chain issues, according to Tournear, are “normal mode faults,” which implies that if though just a few modules or parts of a device are compromised, the whole network will be rendered inoperable.
A supply chain assault is a cyber-attack that threatens the supply chain’s least stable components. “So, it doesn’t matter whether I have one satellite or even 1,000 satellites; certain types of attacks might blow them all out,” Tournear stated. “Those are the risks that I’m most concerned about because I believe they will have the most damaging effect,” he stated. “The other hazards, on the other hand, I believe proliferation offers us major advantages,” he said. SDA is partnering with other DoD organizations to establish encryption and other authentication devices for use on the satellites in order to protect its network. This is a difficult task, according to Tournear, since they must be thin, lightweight, and low-power.