Northrop Grumman will build a Space Force prototype for the cyber protection of satellite networks

The Space Development Agency will begin launching its Tranche 1 Transport Layer communications mesh network in 2024. (Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON: Northrop Grumman will begin testing next spring of a new Space Force hardware/software prototype designed to protect large, interconnected satellite networks from cyberattacks, company officials say.

The prototype, called the Space End Crypto Unit (ECU), is being developed in tandem with electronics company Aeronix, with delivery expected in 2024.

“We are developing a hardware unit that can survive in the space environment, with the intention of deploying the hardware on proliferated low Earth orbit (pLEO) satellites,” Amanda Walsh, spokesperson for the Networked Information Solutions unit ( NIS) from Northrop Grumman. , said in an email. “We are also developing cryptographic software that will run on this hardware module, and this cryptographic software will allow network users to communicate securely within the network (i.e. Protect the Mesh Network).”

Northrop Grumman is one of three companies under contract with the Space Development Agency to develop its high-speed data and communications satellite transport layer in LEO, under a February contract worth of $692 million. These satellites are designed to serve as the basis for the Pentagon’s JADC2 (Joint All Domain Command and Control) concept for managing modern warfare in the air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

Cyber ​​protection is a key concern for large mesh network constellations, where the hacking of one satellite link could create a network-wide outage.

The prototype is under contract through the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL), Wlash said, but she said the company was not free to disclose the value of the contract.

NSTXL manages the public-private Space Force Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC), under a contract dated January 15, 2021. SpEC manages a pot, worth up to $12 billion over a decade, of funds of the Other Transaction Authority and works with the service’s Space Systems Command to choose contractors selected from among its members for specific projects.

The prototype “is a flexible, high-speed design based on a single chip, reprogrammable solution and is expected to deliver a connected networking solution that helps fighters make decisions faster across a full range of platforms,” ​​according to a statement. company press releases.

Walsh explained that the chip is part of the hardware module “intended to be deployed on satellites, but this hardware can also be deployed in other environments” such as ground stations and/or aircraft.

“Our prototype open-architecture spatial mesh network enables new capabilities in spatial layer networking to meet emerging and evolving customer needs,” said Kevin Berkowitz, director of NIS, in a company press release on May 8. June. “This offering provides mission-speed data, communications connectivity and cryptography processing – an essential part of the joint force connection.

Dino J. Dotson