Space force

Inside the ‘outernet’: Securing ‘the internet in space’ is key to the Space Force’s future hybrid architecture

The Space Development Agency will begin launching its Tranche 1 Transport Layer communications mesh network in 2024. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has taken the first steps toward a future “hybrid space architecture” comprising military and commercial satellites in multiple orbits, moving toward designing a fundamental cyber-protected network integration capability – it that is to say resistance to hacking (or almost anyway). ) “Internet in space”, officials say.

The hybrid space architecture concept is an offshoot of Space Force Chief General Jay Raymond’s “Vision for Enterprise Satellite Communications,” first reported by Breaking Defense. And while various experimental efforts to validate the concept of a space internet for military users have been underway since then, the Department of Defense and the Space Force only recently fully embraced the concept and decided to coordinate an effort. holistic approach to designing and developing capacity must justify it.

The Space Force’s Space Warfare Analysis Center (SWAC), the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the Space Development Agency (SDA) are now cooperating in this potentially game-changing effort, officials involved with Breaking Defense said, which in turn will be key to enabling Joint All Domains Command and Control (JADC2) for future warfare. high-speed and information-centric in the air, land, sea, space and cyber domains. The concept would see concentric circles of satellite communications (SATCOM) networks – highly encrypted military constellations, slightly less secure SATCOMs provided by allies, and unclassified commercial constellations.

Recently, SWAC has made progress in developing the overall spatial data transport “force design” for the concept. Meanwhile, DIU’s project with AFRL, which is designing the glue that will link disparate SATCOM networks, also announced concrete steps last week, officials involved said.

And while SDA has already begun launching a constellation of small satellites into low Earth orbit, called the Transport Layer, to enable high-speed, low-latency, Internet-enabled data communications, these satellites will in effect become one network nodes in the larger network of networks that will connect DoD communications satellites in all other orbits as well as some commercial SATCOM birds, DIU’s Rogan Shimmin told Breaking Defense in a July 7 interview.

“We have had frequent discussions with SDA and also the business partners it contracts with,” Shimmin said. “It will definitely be a very important part of the hybrid space architecture.”

A spokesperson for the SDA was unable to provide comment before press time.

SWAC Force Design to inform the 2024 budget

The SWAC force design is intended to flesh out a blueprint for future acquisitions, with a view to informing the fiscal year 2024 budget, based on DIU inputs, said SWAC spokeswoman Maj. Sarah Babcock, to Breaking Defense in an email.

“SWAC has partnered with the Defense Innovation Unit to help understand the role in DoD’s use of business services and infrastructure for what has been referred to as the ‘Outernet,'” she declared.

Babcock explained that the force design effort is iterative and happens in increments. So far, the center has completed “initial force designs” for space-to-space and space-to-ground data communications links.

“The force’s initial designs focused on the large-scale topology of the space-to-space and ground-to-space information transport framework to avoid the previous pitfalls of building dedicated, non-integrated networks to serve specific users. Subsequent force designs focus on the particular elements of this integrated architecture, to include narrowband and broadband users,” she said.

Babcock explained that DIU’s role is to help find commercial space communications companies that the Space Force will partner with to create the hybrid architecture and determine how to best integrate their capabilities and technology.

“DIU’s unique DoD charter for working with commercial organizations across the community provides a partner to identify commercial investments and their path forward. As communicated by senior leaders, Space Force wants to leverage commercial investments in space (especially with the integration of space into 5G architectures) where appropriate,” she explained. “Benefits such as improved capacity and performance for information transport can be realized through some of the current and emerging commercial and space-based SATCOMs. [data] Transport companies.

DIU-AFRL Hybrid Spatial Architecture Initiative

More details on the effort were revealed late last week when the DIU and AFRL Space Vehicle Branch announced a set of four initial contracts under the Hybrid Space Architecture (HSA) program.” to provide global, ubiquitous, and secure Internet connectivity throughout the space domain for commercial, civilian, and military users, including international allies and partners.

Shimmin, who manages the HSA program, said the new contracts – Aalyria, Anduril, Atlas and Enveil – are being funded by AFRL under an earlier effort called “hybrid gateway satellite”. As part of the effort, contractors will provide payloads to a “free-flying satellite that will test many of these different communication architectures,” he said.

An AFRL spokesperson told Breaking Defense in a July 12 email that the effort was within the purview of the lab’s Small Satellite Portfolio team, but it was too early to comment on- beyond the information contained in the DIU press release.

The lab began experiments in 2019 to understand how commercial space internet services, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, could be used to improve all domain operations in a project called Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI). ) and dubbed Global Lightening. The project was part of Air Force Acquisition Czar Will Roper’s signature effort to create a “military Internet of Things” through the service’s Advanced Battle Management System initiative.

And the AFRL’s Space Vehicle Directorate inaugurated its new Rapid Architecture Prototyping and Integration Development Laboratory, or RAPID, on April 12, specifically for research into small satellites and future hybrid space architecture.

“The hybrid space architecture encompasses large and small satellites, and the RAPID lab will expand AFRL’s development of small satellites, which have proven useful in advancing the country’s space priorities,” said Colonel Jon Luminati. , which directs the integrated experiences and the direction of the direction. Evaluation Division, said in the April 22 press release provided to Breaking Defense.

Shimmin said the DIU is funding “a big line of effort” in parallel, with “three awards pending, hopefully in the next month” for internet cloud providers. The contracts will focus on how to design the new mixed architecture to ensure that different levels of data security, from highly classified to unclassified, can be maintained. For example, he said, contractors will look at “network orchestration modules” to automate interactions between different types of satellite nodes.

“The intention is that this software-defined network be generic enough that we can integrate it into any other satellite network, and that it can include a set of gateway satellites” to provide inter-satellite links and space-to-ground, as well as air and sea platforms, Shimmin said.

Four Critical Abilities

The DIU released its first solicitations under the HSA initiative last October. The effort, according to the July 7 statement, has four technology axes:

Multipath communications. “A robust and secure software-defined network (SDN) will be required to integrate various telecommunications systems in low Earth orbit, medium Earth orbit, geostationary orbit, and cislunar space. Currently, communication between these systems is limited; this SDN will need to maintain careful network orchestration to predict link availability, manage radio frequencies and optical beam pointing, and mitigate traffic congestion.

Fusion of multi-source data. “There is already a vast array of sensors available through space assets and the terrestrial internet. Common data standards and interfaces will be needed to merge this data for efficient storage and rapid retrieval. Leveraging the range of sensors while minimizing operator training costs, common command and control interfaces to manage data collection will be required.”

Cloud-based analysis. “The ubiquitous availability of proliferating sensor data opens up limitless new opportunities for artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, across commercial, government, and military uses. The new paradigm of cloud computing allows raw data to be processed into actionable intelligence wherever there is available computing capacity, from large server farms to orbiting (or lunar) edge computing hardware, to the distributed processing over a network of small devices.

Variable trust protocol. “Distributed communications provide network resiliency because the system can support individual lost links and nodes. We must be careful not to introduce vulnerabilities by increasing access points. Industry-benchmark standards must be adhered to, including quantum-resistant link and end-to-end encryption, reliable cryptographic key distribution, continuous zero-trust authentication, and data integrity registries. Due to the wide variety of participating networks, each link and each node will be dynamically assigned a trust score based on observed behavior within the architecture. Traffic can then be routed through preferred links based on sensitivity and speed.

Shimmin said that while DIU’s normal timeframe for project completion is 24 months, since many of the software tools involved in the first set of HSA contracts are commercially available, it might be possible to add more. test some in orbit in less than a year.

“It’s time for the internet to leave the planet,” Shimmin summed up in DIU’s press release. “Just as we could not imagine all the uses of the Internet in the early days of ARPANET, the scope of the HSA is immense and revolutionary.”