Designer Satellite Collisions from Covert Cyber War

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Outer space has enjoyed two decades of fairly peaceful development since the Cold War, but once again it is becoming more competitive and contested, with increased militarization. Therefore, it is important the United States maintain its space superiority to ensure it has the capabilities required by modern warfare for successful operations. Today is different from earlier periods of space development,1 because there is not a blatantly overt arms race in space,2 but instead a covert challenge to US interests in maintaining superiority, resilience, and capability. A finite number of states consider themselves geopolitical actors; however, as long as the United States maintains space superiority, they must play according to a set of rules written without their consent and forced upon them. US space assets monitor the actions of authoritarian regimes and their pursuit of regional influence—a practice these regimes find quite disturbing. Therefore, any degradation or limitation of US space-borne capabilities would be seen as a successful outcome for such regimes. Cyber warfare offers these adversarial actors the opportunity to directly or indirectly destroy US space assets with minimal risk due to limited attribution and traceability. This article addresses how they might accomplish this objective. We must begin by examining US reliance on space before focusing on space clutter and the means an adversary might use to exploit it. While satellite protection is a challenge, there are several solutions the United States should consider in the years ahead.

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