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A core value of communications security is defined by the trio of confidentiality, integrity and availability. This “CIA Triad” is always top of mind for any entity managing a network, and it’s also of critical importance in the satellite industry.

The availability piece may be the one given less consideration, but it’s increasingly relevant in the space domain. In an area that’s challenging for connectivity, like a contested region or one prone to natural disasters, it’s easy to see the vulnerability of critical fiber connections for things such as banking, defense or emergency services.  

Satellite availability is a powerful primary or backup solution in those situations.

Another scenario is an area that’s simply not well connected. It’s estimated that nearly 3 billion people are still offline today, and satellite has a unique ability to reach almost anywhere without much of the on-ground infrastructure needed by terrestrial providers.

As satellite grows in importance to address an increasingly connected world, it also faces some threats. One of those is the growing hazard of space debris, particularly in low Earth orbit (LEO). It applies directly to the availability piece of the triad, for if satellites are being damaged or destroyed by debris, parts or even all of a network can be compromised.  

It’s not a distant concern, with numerous examples of collisions already documented and mounting concern over how satellite constellations with thousands of spacecraft will be able to coexist safely in LEO. In a worst-case scenario, cascading collision events can create what’s known as the Kessler Syndrome, where one collision creates debris creating even more collisions and so on until LEO is virtually unusable.

E-Space believes the space industry — and industries that depend on space assets — must push for satellite designs with resiliency at their core. At E-Space, we’re helping to address the issue by designing a network tailored to exist in this fast-changing environment. In our view, all satellite industry players should be headed in a similar direction to ensure the viability of the space environment.

We are also pushing for increased awareness and regulation aimed at reducing — and hopefully someday eliminating — the launch of collision-prone satellites in LEO.

Related: Learn how E-Space is creating a more sustainable satellite network less susceptible to orbital debris collisions.

Another looming threat is the increasing probability of international conflicts involving the use of anti-satellite weapons. This reality was brought into sharp relief in 2021 when Russia used a missile to blow up a defunct Soviet satellite and created over 1,440 bits of debris in LEO.  

While greater adoption of satellite technology has many positives, the security aspect of it is something experts and military leaders believe is of great concern. And it points to the advantage of having constellations with thousands of smaller spacecraft that are much less vulnerable to disruption and attack. A single satellite in LEO might be an easy target that can take down an entire network, while one with multiple redundancies across thousands of satellites is particularly resilient.

E-Space’s satellites are also intentionally designed with very small cross-sections to drastically lessen the probability of colliding with space debris. Further, in the event of a collision, our satellites are designed to minimize the release of components upon impact, are ultra-low mass, and fully demise upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. This is aimed to radically lower our potential contribution to debris in space.  

E-Space sees these core design tenets as critical to ensure user availability needs are met in a high-debris environment, while also seeking to mitigate the space debris crisis.  

Next-generation satellite systems should see resiliency as an opportunity to secure critical services for end-user needs while also mitigating the environmental threat of cascading space debris. This approach achieves a double-bottom line — creating a highly reliable satellite system that is available to users when it is needed most, as well as a more sustainable space environment for existing space assets and space technologies to be launched by generations to come. 

Dalibor Djuran

Dalibor Djuran is lead satellite engineer at E-Space