Report: Industry must face the reality that commercial satellites will be wartime targets

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Aerospace Study: “In crises and conflicts, commercial space actors risk finding themselves caught in the middle of a tense and escalating environment”

WASHINGTON — Experts have called the Ukrainian conflict the first one commercial space war due to the extensive use of private sector satellites for imaging and communications, with companies like SpaceX and viasat become the target of electronic and cyber attacks.

Commercial satellites have crossed the Rubicon and companies must determine how they will deal with the prospect of intentional or accidental attacks in international conflicts, says a new report by Aerospace Corp.

Typically, only companies that provide direct services to the U.S. military would consider security issues relevant to day-to-day business operations, but that’s changing, the report says.

“In crises and conflicts, commercial space actors risk finding themselves in the midst of a tense and escalating environment,” writes Robin Dickey, space policy and strategy analyst at the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at the Center for Space Policy and Strategy. ‘Aerospace.

An attack could occur “either because a trading system is misidentified as a military system, or because that trading system is suspected of acting in an aggressive or threatening manner,” the report said.

Because of these risks, Dickey argues, commercial space companies should consider getting involved directly or indirectly in international efforts to develop norms of behavior in space, even though traditionally only governments and the United Nations take the lead. leading discussions on space security policy.

Some of these standards, the report suggests, could involve the application of existing laws of armed conflict that protect civilians and their property. Other standards could be the adoption of minimum cybersecurity standards for all satellites.

“Commercial players should not be left out of the discussion,” the report says, and should be proactive in mitigating potential threats that could disrupt the capabilities and services they provide to customers.

The great powers “speak more explicitly of an era of militarized competition,” Dickey points out. “And commercial actors will probably have to operate in times that are not so peaceful, and commercial companies will not be exempt if a conflict arises. In these situations, standards could help mitigate some of the risks and threats to business operators.

If a nation state were to blow up another country’s satellite with a missile strike during a conflict, the impact of the debris could affect commercial satellites in unpredictable ways, the report noted.

Throughout the history of warfare, significant harm has been inflicted on civilians or their property, leading to the adoption of international standards to mitigate collateral damage. “This parallels the challenges of indiscriminate systems in space – such as debris-producing anti-satellite weapons,” the report said. “The destruction of a satellite in a conflict could result in the destruction of a commercial satellite halfway around the world months or years later, a dynamic similar to the persistent threat of landmines for decades after they are deployed. .”

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