Department of Homeland Security publishes space policy

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published an updated space policy that emphasizes its roles in cybersecurity and resilience.

The policy, less than three pages long, was signed by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas April 14. It was not published on the department’s website, though, for more than two months.

“While America continues to grow its commercial space opportunities, our adversaries will also seek to disrupt the advantages the space economy will bring,” the document states. “The Department must therefore support America’s expanding space ecosystem by recognizing its importance to the security of the homeland and through a DHS Space Policy that defines and updates DHS’s role in this important domain.”

The policy identifies three specific roles for the department in space. One is to protect both commercial and government space-based systems and their supply chains from threats, particularly cyberattacks.

“DHS will advocate for the incorporation of cybersecurity principles for all phases of space systems design, development, acquisition, deployment, and operation across the industry,” the document states. That includes continued implementation of Space Policy Directive 5, a 2020 policy for cybersecurity of space systems.

The second element of the policy is devoted to resilience “to minimize the impact of any natural or human-made disruptions on the homeland and to DHS mission execution.” That effort includes exercises to test how the department and others would respond to the loss of critical space systems.

The third element of the policy is creating contingency plans for operating in a “degraded” space environment. “In addition to impacts of space weather and other natural causes, DHS must prepare for the potential that heightened tensions or adversarial activities in space may lead to impacts upon domestic space assets,” the document states. The department will develop plans that include “potential vulnerabilities, likely targets, and mitigation measures that may be unique to adversarial military actions in the space domain.”

The policy does not offer details on how DHS will implement those elements of the policy, such as timetables or assignments of responsibility.

The preamble of the policy suggests other roles for DHS in space, particularly in coordinating impacts of space launches on maritime traffic. “The commercial space industry increasingly relies on the maritime domain for cost-effective launch and recovery of commercial rockets to support its business model in ways that impact traditional maritime stakeholders and requires DHS to develop new maritime safety and security priorities,” it states.

The policy doesn’t elaborate on those priorities, but SpaceX uses droneships as landing platforms for its boosters. Launches by SpaceX and others can create conflicts with maritime traffic at places like Port Canaveral, Florida, including an incident in January where SpaceX scrubbed a launch when a cruise ship entered restricted waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, part of DHS, has been working to refine those restriction zones and improve communication of them to ships.

While DHS did not publish the space policy until June, a department official mentioned it in April in an interview for a Space & Satellite Professionals International (SSPI) podcast. The department did not respond to questions about the policy in the weeks after the publication of the podcast.

“I think this is a really important moment for DHS because it is unifying the DHS approach to space,” said Nick Reese, deputy director for emerging technology policy at the department, in the podcast. The department has not traditionally been involved in space, he noted, “so what DHS has had to do is really take a deliberate approach and study what it could do in space, what its role is and how it be value-added and not cover territory that others are covering.”

The policy was developed through an interagency process coordinated by the National Space Council, he said. That created a policy “that really reflects what DHS wants to do and how DHS wants to contribute.”