WASHINGTONThe Space Systems Command on May 26 rolled out a new process to assess the cybersecurity of commercial satellite operators that do business with the Defense Department. 

Under the Infrastructure Asset Pre-Approval program, or  IA-Pre, commercial suppliers of satellite-based services are evaluated based on their cybersecurity practices and systems. Those suppliers that pass the government’s checklist are then placed on a pre-approved list and will not be required to complete lengthy cybersecurity questionnaires for each individual contract proposal. 

“Our office will begin accepting IA-Pre applications for a limited number of assets to perform assessments,” said Jared Reece, program analyst at the Space Systems Command’s commercial services systems office. 

He said IA-Pre replaces a self-assessment process where commercial companies wanting to do business with DoD had to submit required information via a questionnaire. 

The new process “will ensure effective safeguards are applied and validated; and weaknesses are mitigated to reduce the cybersecurity risks which could impact DoD missions,” said Reece. The Space Systems Command will do on-site assessments for verification of cybersecurity compliance using third- party auditors certified and licensed by the U.S. Space Force Security Controls Assessor.

Clare Grason, division chief of the commercial systems services office, said the IA-Pre program was developed in partnership with commercial vendors. “We’re looking forward to the positive impact that IA-Pre will have in the future for all our stakeholders,” she said.

AI-Pre was first announced in 2020. The Space Systems Command said IA- pre-trials are anticipated to start next month. 

Space Force adding cyber warfare units

The Space Force, meanwhile, is looking to add more squadrons of cyber specialists to support military units that operate communications, surveillance and navigation satellites, Col. Roy Rockwell, commander of Space Delta 6, said May 26.

Space Delta 6 is the Space Force unit that oversees the military’s satellite control network and cybersecurity operations. 

Speaking at a Space Force Association online event, Rockwell said the ground systems used to operate satellites are under threat of cyber attacks. “You don’t have to spend millions or billions of dollars to gain access to the cyber domain and build those capabilities,” he said. Cyber and malware attacks can be pulled off at a relatively low cost, he noted, making these types of weapons far more accessible than missiles or lasers. 

“As we look at how we’ll be attacked in future fights, and how adversaries will try to eliminate us in the space domain, they’ll start with cyber attacks first and foremost,’ said Rockwell.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...