Defending Small Satellites from Malicious Cybersecurity Threats


  • Banks Lin Airforce Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, USA
  • Wayne Henry Airforce Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, USA
  • Richard Dill Airforce Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, USA



small satellite, space cybersecurity, software-defined radio, insider threat, integrity


The connection between space and cyberspace domains is increasingly intertwined. Advancements in space technology, decreasing costs for satellite development, and the use of commercial off-the-shelf products present many cybersecurity challenges to space infrastructure.  Additionally, space-based global critical infrastructure makes the space domain a prime target for malicious cyber threats.  Software-defined radios introduce a potential attack vector for adversaries planning malicious satellite activity.  This paper demonstrates how an adversary would send malicious commands via a software-defined radio to affect the integrity of the sensors on the satellite running NASA's core Flight System software. The experiment demonstrates one possible threat vector using a commercially available USRP N210 software-defined radio. The results show that well-constructed messages can be created to manipulate sensors on a target small satellite system.  Identifying cybersecurity vulnerabilities like these in space systems can improve security and prevent disruptions for the global space enterprise.