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Maintaining Security for Hosted Payloads

I recently participated in the annual Hosted Payload Summit here in Washington, D.C.  The critical issue of security for government users of hosted payloads was top of everyone’s mind.  These users will not deploy their sensitive and critical applications on hosted payloads if they feel that cyber-security measures have not been well defined and successfully implemented.  A lack of cyber and overall security could disable capabilities across the globe if unfriendly nations acted to create such chaos. I share these concerns.

XTAR has firsthand experience managing security issues on both sides of the hosted payload relationship.  We host a payload on XTAR-EUR at 29 E.L. designed as back-up for the Spanish Ministry of Defense services and we operate a hosted payload on the Spainsat satellite at 30 W.L.  Given this unique perspective, we can cite several factors that are essential to achieving security for government missions via hosted payloads.

By their very nature, hosted payloads can increase security for government missions by creating  Resiliency and Disaggregation. These terms have become industry buzzwords because they are critical aspects of secure hosted payloads. Let me explain:

  • Resiliency is the ability of a system architecture to continue to provide required capabilities in the face of system failures, environmental challenges and adversarial threats.
  • Disaggregation is the dispersion of space-based missions, functions or sensors across multiple systems spanning one or more orbital planes, platforms, hosts or domains.

Hosted payloads can be used to achieve resiliency through disaggregation.  The DoD can create an architecture that is much more challenging to disrupt by dispersing its payloads on multiple commercial satellites in orbit. Because its more difficult and complex to degrade,  disruptions are minimized and adversaries are deterred. In the event of interference, the overall effect is mitigated by maintaining the functionality  through  the other space assets in the constellation.

The security of hosted payloads for government use must also be addressed on an end-to-end architecture level, including both ground and space segments. This will require continued discussions and coordination with industry by the government, especially the continued development of IP encryption standards.  It is essential that these standards meet the broad range of government requirements so that encryption on commercial spacecraft will work seamlessly with the primary and hosted payloads as well as terrestrial infrastructure.

Finally, in this era of shrinking government budgets, security requirements for hosted payloads must be addressed in a manner that is not cost prohibitive, or the hosted payload model will die on the vine.  There is plenty of evidence coming from both industry and various studies within DoD that suggest that industry can provide these capabilities cost-effectively.  Given the opportunity to provide its services to the Government, industry has displayed its willingness and aptitude to use commercial business model economics to meet stringent security requirements.