Under Project Moonlighter, the Department of the Air Force may launch a satellite for dedicated cybersecurity testing in 2023, a U.S. Space Force official said.
“Moonlighter is going to be the culmination of multiple years of work through the Hack-A-Sat campaign, a true first of its kind on-orbit hackable satellite,” Capt. Aaron Bolen, integrated section chief of the advanced technology branch at Space Force’s Space Systems Command, said in a Dec. 13 statement.
Project Moonlighter is “a really cool pathfinder, and we are super excited to bring this capability to bear – meaning bringing it on orbit in 2023,” Bolen said.
His comments came as the Air Force announced eight winners of the second annual Hack-A-Sat competition, which culminated in a Capture the Flag (CTF) event in which teams seek to exploit other teams’ cyber vulnerabilities while protecting their own systems. The latter included a virtual ground station, a communications subsystem, physical satellite hardware–called a flat-sat, and digital twin software to simulate and test satellite commands.
Two teams that were among the top rankers in last year’s competition–Solar Wine and Poland Can Into Space–won top honors this year. First place Solar Wine received a $50,000 prize, while Poland Can Into Space got second place and $30,000.
“How do we ensure that the designs and builds we’ve been working on are actually effective? What does space cyber test and that capability even look like? These are all things we’re trying to get after with Project Moonlighter,” Bolen said. “It will bring a level of realism never before experienced in space cyber Capture the Flag events.”
Moonlighter is to be the first platform in space for a CTF.
“Competitors will not only have to win through the physics of on-orbit satellites but also have to work through limited ground contacts just as space operators do on a daily basis,” Air Force Research Laboratory said in a statement. “Moonlighter will not only be used for CTFs but also for training, academic work and real use on a daily basis throughout the year.”
As part of an Air Force effort to embed cyberscurity in aviation and space systems, former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper helped spur the Hack-A-Sat initiative in 2019 when he discussed offering a satellite to a service-selected group of hackers to try to infiltrate at the Defcon 2020 conference in Las Vegas (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2019).
“If we look at communications and weather, position, navigation and timing, data, imagery, and economics, space is absolutely critical to every part of our modern way of life and all of humanity,” Brig. Gen. John Olson, the mobilization assistant to the Space Force chief of operations, said in the Dec. 12 statement.
“Because of this vital capacity and the critical impact that it plays, our space assets are being challenged, contested, engaged, and attacked almost every single day,” he said.