The first Space Cyber Challenge was hosted at this year’s National Security Agency Cyber Defense Exercise, according to a report by the United States 25th Air Force.

The week-long challenge had graduate students from the Royal Military College of Canada competing against personnel from the National Security Agency, engineers from NASA, and five airmen from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing’s 707th Communications Squadron from Fort Meade, Maryland.

The challenge was developed to help "increase awareness of space cybersecurity challenges and principles," said Capt. JBernard Caplo, airman from the 707th CS. There were three separate objectives for the teams to accomplish: system hardening, offensive cyber operations and satellite operations.

To prevent any unfair advantages, each team was provided a space mission kit that contained commercial off-the-shelf items needed to complete the two segments of the challenge, space and ground.

The two segments required the teams to develop a cube sat containing a sensor board and simulated satellite thrusters using light-emitting diodes, and to secure a functioning ground station that allowed their cube sats to communicate through a secure shell connection.


Take off

The glowing LED lights on a miniature satellite, or CubeSat, simulate its thrusters firing during a demonstration May 22, 2017, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Five 707th CS Airmen, alongside NSA personnel and NASA engineers, competed with graduate students from the Royal Military College of Canada in a Space Cyber Challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes/Air Force
Mission Control
The glowing LED lights on a miniature satellite, or CubeSat, simulate thrusters firing while the satellite is connecting to a ground station during the Space Cyber Challenge May 22, 2017, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Five 707th CS Airmen, alongside NSA personnel and NASA engineers, competed against graduate students from the Royal Military College of Canada during the challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes/Air Force

"For satellite operations, each team completed daily tasks, such as sending commands up to their satellite and downloading sensor data. Finally, for offensive cyber operations, each team attempted to attack another team's space mission and send malicious commands," Calpo said.

Ready to transmit
A miniature satellite, or CubeSat, demonstrates its ground segment capability, transmitting signals, as part of the Space Cyber Challenge April 14, 2017. Throughout the week-long challenge, warriors honed their cyber skills and tested their ability to build, secure and defend networks from cyber-attacks. (Courtesy photo)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

The continual collaboration across all domains with the Air Force, sister services, coalition, and allied nations is a necessity for today’s Air Force to continue strengthening the ability to maintain operational cyber command and control. Through the SCC, both teams gained experience that allow continual enhancements to multi-domain capabilities while also limiting security, Air Force officials noted.