Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Satellite Cybersecurity, 10-R6221

Principal Investigators
Shahla Yousefi
Mike Koets
Inclusive Dates 
11/15/21 to 03/15/22


Cybersecurity for space systems is widely recognized as both critical and underinvested. Little applied research and development has been conducted in this area. Effective investigation of cybersecurity for space systems requires the specialized expertise of both security researchers and space system developers. This combination of expertise is rarely found within a single organization, and barriers between communities must be overcome to enable effective collaboration. SwRI is uniquely positioned to bridge this divide with globally recognized expertise in the development of spacecraft and proven capabilities in applied cybersecurity.


This research focused on performing a vulnerability assessment on a flat sat system to uncover vulnerabilities and propose security solutions. As displayed in Figure 1, the flat sat simulated communications between the ground and flight software through a serial interface as well as having space simulation and visualization running on the flat sat.

communication layers in the satellite simulator

Figure 1: Overview of the communication layers in the satellite simulator.

The primary means of interacting with an operational space system is via the wireless command and telemetry data link. By monitoring data sent from the spacecraft to ground stations and transmitting data to the satellite, numerous mechanisms were demonstrated to compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the system. Critical spacecraft information and payload data were extracted from telemetry transmissions. Spacecraft operations were affected through command spoofing, command replay, and denial of service attacks. Impacts on the spacecraft ranged from temporary delays in responding to legitimate commands to overriding guidance, navigation, and control functions which could lead to total loss of access to the satellite.


SwRI identified and simulated exploits of multiple vulnerabilities in spacecraft systems. If the attacks used against the satellite simulator were to be performed against a real satellite, it would have harmful effects, including loss of data confidentiality, reduced or lost functionality of the satellite, or a total loss of access to the satellite. This work forms an essential technical foundation for future work for space system vulnerability assessments as well as development of approaches to mitigate the potential threat of these vulnerabilities. Additional research opportunities include the study of file processing and crafted malicious telecommands such as buffer overflows in command processing, invalid parameters, or additional denial-of-service methods.