Warning on space security

As World Space Week commences, it is clear that outer space has recaptured the attention of the Australia’s policymakers and industry, says Flinders University Jeff Bleich Centre expert Vinicius de Oliviera.

“As well as inaugurating its national Space Agency, Australia has hosted the first NASA launch from its territory in 25 years and the first ever from a commercial facility outside of the United States. It also became a member of the most innovative space program, Artemis, being a part of the audacious plan to land on the Moon and Mars,” says lawyer and PhD candidate Mr de Oliviera. 

“Australia will also host the International Aeronautical Congress 2025 in Sydney and intends to grow the sector to $12 billion and triplicate the number of jobs in one decade, in a segment that has a growing number of national private entrepreneurs that now visualise financial gains from space activity as more feasible than decades ago. 

Next week Flinders University’s Jeff Bleich Centre will host the first Australian Space Cyber Forum to discuss space security. 

“Besides the intensified importance of the space industry in the civil and commercial context, Australia also understands access to space as increasingly vital to the country’s defence and national interest by recognising space technology as a critical infrastructure sector and announcing the significant growth of investments in Defence’s space capabilities.

“But while the segment is now critical for Australian defence, industry and civil society, space technology is still very vulnerable to cyber attacks.” 

Many of the characteristics that define this recent phase of space, now called ‘NewSpace’, contribute to greater use of cyber attacks against space infrastructures, such as the use of cheaper technologies for the development of satellites, which creates more entry points in space technologies for attacks, he says.

This has also led to a larger number of space players, adding complexity to an already intricate scenario and the growing orbit congestion, which maintains the unlikely the use of kinetic attacks, such as missiles, due to the shared collateral effect of spreading space debris into the space environment.

“For Australia, cyber attacks on the space infrastructure can negatively impact the country’s economy and disrupt its critical infrastructure and essential services, presenting a substantial threat to national defence.

“These risks can be exacerbated or mitigated, depending on the government’s ability to properly address the cybersecurity of its space infrastructure at the domestic policy and legal levels. Therefore, it is important to assess the overall maturity of the Australian framework on the subject.” 

Mr de Oliveria’s postgraduate research analyses the documents that compose this framework and engages with important space stakeholders, such as the Australian Space Agency and the European Space Policy Institute, seeking to understand how Australia perceives the cybersecurity of its space infrastructure.

The aim is to examine the current state of Australia’s policy and legal framework in the topic, analyse how the domestic framework protects the country against cyber threats in space, and identify gaps and opportunities. 

“Nowadays, due to the massive use of space services and applications in our daily lives, the distinction between being safe on space and being safe on Earth does not make much sense anymore. Consequently, only by thoughtfully assessing this background, Australia can be truly safe and maintain its great momentum on space in a sustainable, secure, and predictable manner.”

Vinicius Guedes Gonçalves de Oliveira is a lawyer, graduated from the Federal University of Espírito Santo in Brazil. He is currently a PhD candidate and scholarship holder co-funded by SmartSat CRC and Flinders University developing a doctoral project regarding the Cybersecurity of the Australian space infrastructure and its interaction with the current legal and policy framework, a topic in which he is also regularly publishing. Vinicius is a researcher at the Jeff Bleich Centre for the US Alliance in Digital Technology, Security & Governance and at the Space Power and Policy Applied Research Consortium, on projects mainly concerning space, defence, cyber, politics and law. He is also involved in teaching a number of courses at Flinders University’s College of Business, Government and Law.

Posted in
College of Business, Government and Law Research The Jeff Bleich Centre