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Good morning. That’s a wrap on Satellite 2022. It was great to meet dozens of you IRL. We’re looking forward to seeing familiar faces (and new ones) at Space Symposium in just under two weeks. lor… 

In today’s newsletter…
🛰️ Satellite hack attribution
🧠 Geek out: quantum networks

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  WaPo: US Has Privately Attributed Hack of Viasat KA-SAT Ground Infrastructure to GRU

Viasat KA-SAT satellite. The satellite provides "internet coverage over much of Europe," per Viasat. Graphic via Viasat.
Viasat KA-SAT satellite. The satellite provides “internet coverage over much of Europe,” per Viasat. Graphic via Viasat.

US intelligence officials have attributed the hack of a satellite broadband service to the GRU, Russia’s largest military spy agency, the Washington Post reported Thursday. While its spooks may have reached a determination, the US government has not publicly attributed to Russian military hackers.

“We are concerned about the apparent use of cyber operations to disrupt communications systems in Ukraine and across Europe and affect businesses and individuals’ access to the Internet,” a National Security Council spokesperson told WaPo.

The FBI and US cyber agency CISA recently warned US SATCOM operators to step up their security posture and lower their threshold for incident reporting, due to elevated threat levels.

What say Ukraine?

Viktor Zhora, a senior Ukrainian cyber official, flatly told WaPo: “We don’t need to attribute it since we have obvious evidence that it was organized by Russian hackers to disrupt the connection between customers that use this satellite system.” Zhora pointed to the timing of the attack, which knocked satellite receivers offline shortly before Russian missiles started flying into Ukraine and forces started pouring over the Belarussian border. “It was a really huge loss in communications in the very beginning of war,” Zhora told Wired.

New details emerge

The attack on Viasat KA-SAT receivers likely disrupted Ukrainian military comms at the beginning of the war. Elite units of the Ukrainian military are using satellite networks to steer drones, among other things. And Zelenskyy is reportedly using a satphone to stay connected and communicate with the outside world.

Viasat, which has repeatedly referred to the incident as a “deliberate, isolated, and external cyber event,” is still working to restore connectivity in affected areas. The satellite operator is in the process of shipping new product to distribution partners so that customers can replace bricked hardware.

Size, scope, and scale

The attack has collateral damage far beyond Ukraine or the country’s armed forces. To wit: Thousands of wind turbines are still offline in Germany. Western intelligence agencies are probing the attack, and without elaborating, the NSA has confirmed it’s also looking into the breach.

In Other News

  • NASA and ESA have selected astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Andreas Mogensen to travel to the ISS on the SpaceX Crew-7 mission in 2023.
  • On that note…NASA’s EVA suits are getting old. ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer’s faceplate was 30-50% covered in water after a spacewalk this week.
  • The FCC will increase satellite headcount by 38% to handle applications for 38,000 V-band satellites filed since August (H/T SpaceIntelReport). 
  • Ursa Major completed qualification of its Hadley rocket engine.

  Geek Out: Quantum Communication

NASA dreams of a future network in which superfast, globally distributed quantum computers transmit data back and forth from space nearly instantaneously, without any packet loss. 

Enter SEAQUE. The Space Entanglement and Annealing QUantum Experiment (SEAQUE), developed by JPL along with a team of researchers from across the world, is the next step in making that dream a reality.

To tackle this problem, NASA wants to try out free-space optical communications for quantum data. The method uses lasers to transmit high-res data without fiber optic cables, which degrade quantum data. Right now, NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is testing out these laser comms capabilities. But the quantum piece of the puzzle remains unsolved.

Entangling: The first communications challenge SEAQUE aims to solve is creating and detecting a pair of entangled photons. Entangled particles act as if they are connected even when separated by distance, and observing one particle will affect the other. It’s officially spooky.

SEAQUE will attempt to split a high-energy photon into two entangled photons using a waveguide. JPL’s press release explains it best: “A waveguide is a microscopic structure that acts like an expressway for photons, directing their transmission with little loss of the quantum state.” The instrument’s sensors will then count the photons and measure those spooky quantum properties.

Self-healing: The second piece of the experiment will help the instrument “self-heal” after being constantly exposed to radiation. To enable a global quantum comms network, assets in space will need incredibly sensitive light sensors that can detect single photons traveling very far distances. Over time, these photons will damage the sensor, and if they can’t heal themselves, they’ll need to be replaced fairly often—not a terribly viable solution for a satellite-based network. 

SEAQUE researchers have found on Earth that using a very bright laser can help to clear away damage and extend the lifetime of the sensor. So now they’re trying it in space. The mission will launch no earlier than this August to be installed aboard the ISS.

The View from Florida

NASA's Crawler Transporter, which carries the SLS moon rocket, sits near the launch pad with SLS
Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky