Orbital ATK launches its Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport co-located with NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — A new House bill would classify space as a critical infrastructure and require the federal government to establish guidelines to protect it.

The Space Infrastructure Act, to be introduced June 4 by Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), would add space systems to the 16 sectors currently classified as critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security. The bill would direct the department and other agencies to develop guidance on how to protect it.

Under the bill, space infrastructure would include spacecraft and launch vehicles, space-related terrestrial systems and launch infrastructure, related production facilities and information technology systems.

“Space is infrastructure,” Lieu said in a statement, citing its role in providing communications and navigation services. “As a result, we have to ensure that we’re protecting these critical systems by directing the right minds and resources towards them.”

“American assets in space play a vital role in our economic and national security,” Calvert said in the statement. “That’s why officially designating space as a critical infrastructure sector is a logical step and I’m proud to work with Rep. Lieu on this bill.”

The Department of Homeland Security lists 16 critical infrastructure sectors, from chemical industries to healthcare and financial services. Critical infrastructure is defined as that, if damaged or destroyed in some way, “would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof,” according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Space, in many cases, falls between gaps in those sectors. The transportation sector includes aviation but not space. However, communications does mention satellites among other systems, and the critical manufacturing sector includes aerospace products and parts manufacturing.

The lack of a formal identification of space as critical infrastructure came up in discussions last year about Space Policy Directive 5, which established cybersecurity best practices for space systems. Space got special attention on cybersecurity, administration officials said then, because space, while itself not considered a critical infrastructure, supports several others.

Lieu said the recent series of cybersecurity incidents, such as ransomware attacks, was another reason to classify space as critical infrastructure. “Rep. Calvert and I know firsthand how important it is to strengthen efforts to secure space-based assets,” he said. The two co-chair the California Aerospace Caucus in the House. “All the recent hacking incidents underscore that we have to be forward-thinking about how to safeguard critical infrastructure.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...