By Massimo Pellegrino and Gerald Stang*
Space Security for Europe – Excerpt from Issue Report n° 29 – July, 2016
Modern societies are highly dependent on the continuous operation of critical infrastructure to ensure the provision of basic goods and services. They consist of assets, systems or parts thereof which are so vital, that their disruption would significantly impact the economy, national security, public health, safety, or social wellbeing. Examples of critical infrastructure include energy, water, food supply, communication, transportation, and waste processing systems.
Space assets are so deeply embedded in developed economies that a day without fully functioning space capabilities would severely restrict or even endanger our lives. Space systems are critical for running energy grids and telecommunication networks, border and maritime surveillance, crisis management and humanitarian operations, environmental and climate monitoring, verification of international treaties and arms control agreements, and the fight against organised crime and terrorism. Space assets also provide the technological backbone for other critical infrastructures. The synchronisation of power grids and telecommunication networks, for example, is heavily dependent on GNSS timing signals and any disruption would create a domino effect on other critical infrastructures (see Figure 5).
Satellites also play a central role in supporting defence systems and military operations. They are force multipliers that provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, as well as communication, navigation, positioning and timing signals. Armed forces do not only use their own space systems, but are also significant consumers of space services provided by private operators. In fact, about 90% of US military communications traffic passes through civilian satellites, many of which privately owned, rather than through dedicated systems designed to withstand attempted interruptions.1 The reliance of both civilian and military users on space systems therefore places them firmly in the area of critical infrastructure.
Some critical space systems, such as the American GPS, are under foreign control, and the governments controlling those systems retain the authority to disrupt services, even for allies, in case of a national emergency. While the United States announced that it has no intention of ever intentionally degrading public GPS signals (also known as ‘Selective Availability’) and that the next generation of GPS satellites will not include this feature, other governments might still do so.2 These dependences engender new and growing vulnerabilities.
Reliance on space is likely to increase further as space capabilities and services improve in diversity, quality and affordability. Close to 1,500 satellites with a launch mass of over 50 kg are expected to be launched over the next decade; an increase of 50% compared to 2005-2014. This estimate excludes both the expected proliferation of smaller satellites (such as CubeSats), but also the planned OneWeb and Steam mega-constellations for global internet broadband service. Advances in small satellite capabilities and in launch technology (e.g. SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family) have already lowered the cost of access to space. About 45% more CubeSats were launched in 2014 than in 2013 (130 vs. 91), accounting for 63% of all satellites launched3. However, just as the reliance on space increases, so too do threats and vulnerabilities. Therefore, in order to realise the full potential of investments in space, critical space systems need to be adequately protected and the space environment properly managed.
Massimo Pellegrino joined the EUISS in February 2015. His main research focus is space security, and in particular the dimensions of ‘security in space’ and ‘security from space’, including the connections between cyber and outer space.
*Gerald Stang is a GG10 member, is Senior Associate Analyst with the EU Institute of Security Studies, where he researches energy, climate and security challenges. He holds BSc and MSc degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Saskatchewan and an MA in international affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.