Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu (from right) asks a question to Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings during a briefing held at Division Newport on June 21, 2022.

COLORADO SPRINGS — Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, is calling on commercial industry to develop affordable, radiation-hardened electronics.

“Commercial innovation in this area can help to ensure the security and resilience of our satellite systems in orbit,” Shyu said April 9 at the 39th Space Symposium here.

The comments from the Pentagon’s top research official were further evidence that the U.S. military is concerned about the possibility of detonation of a nuclear weapon in space that could degrade or permanently disable individual satellites or entire constellations.

“By making this statement about radiation enforcement in front of the global audience of U.S. and foreign commercial and government space operators, she warns the global community about space threats without identifying what the U.S. might know that led to such a warning,” Cortney Weinbaum, RAND senior management scientist, said in a statement. “All space systems would already be hardened against the background radiation of space, which makes her call-to-action novel and an increase over previous [statements regarding] space defense.”

EMP Threat

Concerns of a new Russian antisatellite weapon being developed, but not yet fielded, were confirmed by the White House in February. At the time, John Kirby, White House national security communications advisor, did not address reports that the Russia weapon was either nuclear-powered or designed to produce an electromagnetic pulse to disable satellite electronics.

Still, those reports have raised concerns about radiation hardening of space-based electronics.

“Recent reporting regarding the prospect of Russia launching nuclear warheads on long-range boosters or from orbiting platforms raises additional concerns of nuclear detonations in space,” Shyu said.

Commercial Technology

In Space Symposium remarks, Shyu also called attention to the Defense Department’s 2024 Commercial Space Integration Strategy released earlier this month.

“This strategy seeks to align the Department’s efforts to drive more effective integration of commercial space solutions into national security space architectures,” Shyu said. “Central to this integration of commercial space capabilities into defense operations is the imperative to broadly diversify our capabilities to provide increased resilience.”

In addition to radiation-hardening, Shyu cited “novel orbits, varied communication pathways, advancements in propulsion technologies and increased cooperation with our allies” as ways to increase the resilience of space assets.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...