As the evolution of space as a contested domain accelerates, defense and national security agencies must innovate—and both legacy ground systems and digital-first programs now have the chance to rapidly adapt. Every day, the Ukraine-Russian war shows the world the power of space data, while the Space Force’s establishment of a new Indo-Pacific unit underscores the criticality of U.S. space-based capabilities in every region. Whatever your mission or system, rapidly adopting a holistic open-architecture approach is your best option to face tomorrow’s unknowns.
The U.S. space strategy stresses resilient systems that ensure access to space and enable joint operations. Space situational awareness, space traffic management, and AI-fueled insights are all necessary to achieve these overarching goals. While the Department of Defense prioritizes open systems that can be rapidly updated, many agencies are focused on keeping existing systems running while they devise a strategy to get started.
We’ve seen space agencies transform with scalability and flexibility by blending three capabilities: secure open architectures, flexible data frameworks, and rigorous DevSecOps. Open architectures provide an interoperable framework for the second element, open data, to be processed, analyzed, and shared. DevSecOps provides strategic decisions, agile processes, and agile checkpoints to ensure security and flexibility for ongoing updates. Harnessed together, the three can accommodate changing missions and the new technologies needed to succeed.
These elements can be scaled for digital integration into any system—whether providing unprecedented capabilities to new systems or mitigating vulnerabilities in ground stations of legacy systems. Unlike proprietary architectures which require custom coding and, in some cases, are incompatible with other technologies, an open approach ensures speed, security, and the adaptability to plug in the latest innovation.
Transforming Terrestrial Stations
Terrestrial stations are the door to open for fastest modernization. Once satellites are on-orbit, the space layer is beyond physical reach. But the ground layer remains accessible to add software, algorithms, and AI to add new functionality or correct problems.
Here’s where secure open architectures come in. Open systems are made possible through a convergence of technologies such as advanced cyber, cloud, and AI, providing interoperability so elements from any partner can be rapidly tested, implemented, and updated. And by using standard APIs, storing them in industry-standard formats, and maintaining them on a secure cloud infrastructure, agencies can ensure the data stays free. Even a decades-old ground station can implement some of the latest innovations.
Open architectures offer advantages like:
- Government-owned technology: Open data platforms running on interoperable systems allow DOD to integrate technology from traditional partners and startups alike. Imagine being able to plug-and-play a solution from a brilliant innovator right away.
- Faster development: A disciplined, coordinated DevSecOps approach ensures continuously dependable innovation with advantages like automated deployments, enterprise-wide standardization, and automated security scans. For example, Booz Allen created a tool suite which allowed data scientists to securely build, train, and deploy machine learning (ML) models for a mission-critical national system.
- Integrated AI: Microservices architecture arranges applications as loosely coupled services, allowing modular modernization using multiple advanced technologies like AI and ML. AI and ML can then be inserted into workflows using graphics processing unit (GPU) technology. For example, Booz Allen has demonstrated how deep reinforcement learning can enhance collision avoidance and optimize satellite scheduling.
- Advanced space cyber defense: Cloud-native technologies ensure security is integrated from the start, with features like standardized approaches to ensure data provenance and integrity, encryption protecting network connections and data, and zero-trust security that reduces human error and adds resilience from cyber attack. Cybersecurity protection guards the intersection between IT and the satellite system, mitigating the vulnerabilities of operational technology.
Modularity to Address Multiple Challenges
Once a space organization transitions to an open-architecture framework, the door is open to any innovation partner with a good idea. The time to implement a new technology for a changing mission can be reduced from months or weeks to as little as hours or even minutes. Agile solutions can be rapidly at work for objectives like these:
- Cyber protection from rival nations: Many U.S. satellites on orbit today were designed in the “space as a sanctuary” era, when on-orbit attacks were not a serious threat. These are now vulnerable to threats from anti-satellite missiles and lasers to jamming devices and cyberattacks. These can be updated on-orbit with new software, with smart analytics alerting operators to potential attacks. Automated capabilities such as attack assessment and self-healing architectures can ensure a space mission’s continuity even after attack.
- Space domain awareness to detect evolving threats: AI can be implemented at any point in the mission to ensure the intelligent, coordinated space-based information gathering that’s essential for command and control, faster generating and sharing of intelligence insights, and integrated initiatives such as Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
- Space traffic management to combat overcrowding: As the modern world relies increasingly on satellite services, today’s 5,500 active satellites are projected to be 58,000 by 2030. By pulling in, fusing, and processing sensor data from partners around the globe—such as radar, visual, and infrared—modern algorithms can give more precise locations and be optimized to provide forecasts and automated courses of action for split-second decisions. As threats and challenges proliferate, now is the time to explore the advantages of open architectures to conquer today’s challenges—and stay ahead of tomorrow.