Managing the impact of space debris and satellite risk

The rising use of space for man-made purposes has greatly affected this environment. In particular, the rising quantity of space assets in orbit around the Earth has introduced new and pertinent threats for our planet. These are threats we never before had to consider. But as the number of satellites launched each year is rising exponentially, now is the time to assess the space landscape.

In a few of our recent blogs we have discussed the increasing risk for satellites in space and how this has a direct impact on ground operations. We’ve shown how the state of satellite signals, positions, and quality have a significant bearing on how many Earthly services and applications function. This in turn presents significant risk to our day-to-day lives.

When degraded satellite service has the potential to stall millions of bank transactions, or block communication with soldiers on an active mission, then it’s imperative that managing satellite risk becomes a standard part of ground-based operations.

SpaceAware, our latest incident modelling platform solution, address this need. By modelling the downstream impacts of satellite effects, SpaceAware gives users advanced awareness of what happens to your operations when satellite systems are disrupted or degraded. Our platform is designed to support various users on the ground, either during an incident or in advance, for strategic planning, decision-making, and risk analysis. This empowers users to not only account for satellite risk, just as they would business risk, but also to effectively respond to challenges caused by satellite behaviour and mitigate the potential impacts.

Learn more: The increasing risk of satellites in space 

How different users can manage the impact of satellite risks

SpaceAware presents all risk analysis information in an easy-to-understand, contextual, and interactive visualisation. This gives information about the overall mission status, as well as details about the condition of connected assets and operations. From mission failure rate to satellite availability, SpaceAware presents various data outputs that provide insight into how satellite events will impact any given goal, mission, or operation.

Strategic Users

Strategic users, such as military commanders, commercial managers or strategists, or logistics and operations teams can use SpaceAware to inform their advanced planning. By running models to analyse multiple scenarios, users get insight into how different determining factors will affect mission status over time. This allows these users to build in redundancies or adjust their plans to account for the given risk.

For example, if a certain day or time poses too great a risk of communication loss, such as due to space weather, a commander may choose to delay a mission until this risk lessens.

Step 1: Creating your mission

A mission is made up of mission context, mission components and component dependencies. Users can create and store tailored missions – adding the relevant components and defining dependencies – then view these on their platform dashboard. For example;

  • Mission context: Factors that define the overall mission, such as a location and/or mission objective.
  • Mission component: An asset on the ground, such as a vehicle or patrol group.
  • Component dependencies: Whether an asset is reliant on a particular satellite for a service, and how, such as GPS or communication.

Users can create components for their mission from templates, using predetermined dependencies and features, or they can create entirely new components and dependencies. New dependencies and categories of components can also be added for unique relationships that haven’t yet been analysed.

This allows users to completely tailor their mission scenarios, ensuring they can replicate real-life challenges accurately.

Step 2: Running analysis

Once the mission is created, users can run analysis across the entirety of the mission to determine the potential threats present and the mission’s exposure to risk. Users can therefore perform impact assessments to see the overall effect of satellite disruption or degradation to on-the-ground activities – across land, sea, and air missions or operations.

For example, users can explore what happens to other components and the overall mission when a satellite goes offline. SpaceAware will visually display the system network and how each area is (or isn’t) impacted, as well as determining whether the overarching mission will fail or succeed in these conditions.

This is an excellent resource for strategic planning in pre-mission phases. If decision-makers are setting up a specific mission, such as a convoy or reconnaissance, or business operation, such as resource transport they can use SpaceAware to evaluate the threats and create a risk management/mitigation strategy.

Step 3: Comparing multiple scenarios

Users can run analysis on multiple scenarios to get a complete view over all the possible risks and downstream impacts that may occur, including;

  • Space weather: E.g. a solar flare, meteorites, or solar wind.
  • Conjunctions: E.g. a collision or interaction with space debris.
  • Kinetic attack: E.g. a physical launch designed to disrupt the satellite.
  • Non-kinetic attack: E.g. a targeted laser or cyber attack on the satellite network.

SpaceAware can also evaluate transient events. Users can easily set the system to compare how the impact of any given event differs if it were to occur at different times and dates. They can also analyse how impact changes if the condition of the event were to change over time. For example, if a satellite were to go down at a certain time then come back online later.

SpaceAware will produce a timeline representation of events, so users can clearly see the status of each component at different times and as time progresses.

Step 4: Exploring your mission results

SpaceAware can ingest 500 assets and 5000 vulnerabilities in just five minutes within the cyber component and map these results clearly in an understandable, visual manner. Once the results are complete, missions can be stored and reviewed when you need them.

There are many other details that users can intuitively explore or drill down into using their dashboard view.

  • Scheduled and known events are clearly displayed, such as predicted weather events or predetermined scenarios.
  • Mission view allows users to explore a specific mission location on an interactive map. This displays all the mission detail, including components, their status, their dependencies, and the mission goal.
  • Dependencies can be viewed in more detail with a single click, where users can see a quick analysis of the satellite type, purpose, and so on.

Analyst View

Analysts will likely use SpaceAware to further evaluate the probabilities of different scenarios and impacts. These users can set up components and dependencies in greater detail, allowing them to more deeply understand the chances of mission failure. Based on the probability of different events occurring, analysts can evaluate why and how a component might fail and how these impacts will traverse across the dependency tree.

Using the dependency analysis engine, users can model dependency change over time. This allows users to better represent the dynamic nature of space missions and see probabilities in detail. Within the analysis engine’s own user interface, analysts can modify existing vignettes created by user interaction in the main solution interface. Users can additionally create mission vignettes from scratch, perform analysis, and interrogate results in more detail.

The dependency analysis engine has several powerful capabilities that would be especially useful for the analyst user:

Interventions

Analysts can design courses of action such that mission resilience can be maintained given various threats to space assets. Running these through analysis helps with mission planning, live replanning during an exercise or mission, and post-mission analysis.

Interdependencies

Interdependencies between components can be weighted to indicate sensitivity – depending on the importance of that threat to the overall mission success. This capability can be effectively used during performance propagation as impacts are being realised from simulated events.

Systems can then be represented by a collection of interconnected mission components that contribute towards the success of a mission. This provides a more complex and intricate model for tactical and strategic planning.

Vulnerabilities

Every event is coupled with a vulnerability and impact, and has defining qualities including temporal properties, and likelihood of occurrence. These vulnerabilities describe the likelihood of a particular component being impacted by the event. If this event occurs, the resulting impact will be modelled and will initiate performance change propagation.

Threshold limits can also be added to the vulnerabilities to represent the acceptable levels of radiation, shielding, sensitivity, and orbital position.

Cyber modelling

A mission vignette can be linked with an underlying cyber model – to model cyber attacks on ground assets and an overall mission. This functionality displays the impact of cyber attacks on ground terminals within your satellite connected system. Users can go on to analyse what if scenarios, perform future analysis, and dive into the detail of the attacker themselves.

Dynamic dependencies

Space assets are extremely dynamic, with assets transiting between states and orbits as part of their taskings. This has placed emphasis on more dynamic mission models where dependencies and assets can vary over time.

During analysis, performance propagation considers when a dependency is active. For example, when an asset is down, the impact doesn’t spread. Whereas when the dependency is being used by another asset, the impact propagates.

The SpaceAware platform is being consistently developed to include new functionality and capabilities. In future, there is opportunity to support live response, enabling users to understand what team members and assets are affected by an evolving event in real-time. This is just one way we are looking to advance SpaceAware for more users, use cases, and widespread application in diverse satellite-supported scenarios.

Download our product sheet on SpaceAware for more information about the platform.

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