Satellite Hacked?

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), a government panel established in 2000 by Congress for the purpose of examining how China’s growing military and technological power could impact U.S. security, says two America satellites were hacked in 2007 and 2008. The Commission’s report (pdf) accuses China of doing it to it.

According to the report, the first satellite attacked was Terra (EOS-AM-1), the flagship satellite in a series of NASA orbiters, designed to monitor the Earth’s climate. The satellite was attacked twice in 2008, with attackers gaining command-and-control access level.

The second satellite was Landsat-7, which is designed to take high-resolution images of the Earth’s terrain. These images are publically available and are often color-balanced and enhanced by commercial entities for use in services such as Google Maps. They’re also used by the USGS to create 3D maps

The report describes (pg. 216):

  • On October 20, 2007, Landsat-7, a U.S. earth observation satellite jointly managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, experienced 12 or more minutes of interference. This interference was only discovered following a similar event in July 2008 (see below).
  • On June 20, 2008, Terra EOS [earth observation system] AM–1, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration-managed program for earth observation, experienced two or more minutes of interference. The responsible party achieved all steps required to command the satellite but did not issue commands.
  • On July 23, 2008, Landsat-7 experienced 12 or more minutes of interference. The responsible party did not achieve all steps required to command the satellite.
  • On October 22, 2008, Terra EOS AM–1 experienced nine or more minutes of interference. The responsible party achieved all steps required to command the satellite but did not issue commands.

Earlier drafts of the commission’s report traced the cause of the probe interference to the Norwegian ground station owned and run by Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), which denied any occurrence of interference via its facilities, reports The Register. In response to queries by El Reg, the satellite services issued a statement saying a thorough investigation has turned up nothing amiss. Neither NASA, which maintains the satellites, nor regulators at the NOAA had complained, it added.

US commanders cannot pin down satellite anomaly, according to the US Strategic Command chief, who says the data is “inconclusive”. U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in a Nov. 16 teleconference.

“The best information that I have is that we cannot attribute those two occurrences,” Kehler said in response to a question from a Reuters reporter. “I guess I would agree that we don’t have sufficient detail.”


China’s embassy in Washington said in response that it was “obvious that the commission is entrusted with the mission of vilifying China’s image and spreading China threat theory by patching up unwarranted allegations against China. We urge the commission to stop issuing such reports for the good of increasing mutual trust between our two countries while China will continue to play a responsible role in both the realistic and the virtual worlds,” Wang Baodong, the embassy spokesman, said by email to Reuters.

The Pentagon made it clear it is prepared to launch a cyber offensive if directed by the president. The Washington Post called it the Pentagon’s “most explicit cyberwarfare policy to date.”

In the report, released on Monday (pdf), Defense Department officials stated that they could retaliate against “significant cyberattacks directed against the U.S. economy, government or military.”

Presumably, any report accusing space-based, cyber-warfare against the United States would be opening a Pandora’s box of accusations, with all sides guilty as hell.

China is pretty busy with their manned space program.

Shenzhou-8, launched on Nov. 1, safely returned to earth last week, marked the full success of China’s first space docking mission joining the unmanned spacecraft with Tiangong-1, their space laboratory, which was launched on Sept. 29. Tiangong-1 is expected to be visited by three Shenzhou missions during its two-year operational lifetime.

Meanwhile, Landsat 5 is on the brink of failure, after having outlived its three-year design life nine times. Landsat 5 is showing signs of an “impending failure” after more than 27 years in space. USGS engineers have suspended image acquisitions using the satellite for at least 90 days, the agency said in a statement.

“This anticipated decline of Landsat 5 provides confirmation of the importance of the timely launch of the next Landsat mission and the need for an operational and reliable National Land Imaging System,” said Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Landsat 7 has experienced an instrument anomaly which reduces the amount of data collected per image. Landsat 8, currently called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, is now scheduled to be launched in January 2013.

The Landsat program has kept a constant vigil over Earth since the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972. The constellation’s 39-year legacy provides a robust archive of data at the fingertips of scientists.

But GAO says taxpayers have bailed out Northrop Grumman and its contractors to the tune of hundreds of millions for non-working earth resources satellites (pdf).

The NPOES satellite project is “a poster child for mismanagement,” said David Powner, author of a Government Accountability Office report issued June 17, 2009 (pdf). “It’s clearly up there as one of the most troubled programs that we’ve looked at.”

Northrop Grumman’s next generation weather satellites were at least $8 billion over budget and the launch of the first satellite at least five years late, reports USA Today, before the program was cancelled.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), manages the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, and the lower, Polar Orbit satellites. Their images are seen nightly on virtually every television forecast in the United States.

NOAA’s polar orbiting meteorological satellites (POES), circle the Earth at a typical altitude of 850 km (530 miles, passing over the poles in sun synchronous orbits, which means they are able to observe any place on Earth and view every location twice each day.

Other polar orbiting weather satellites include the DOD’s Meteorological Satellite (DMSP) which can detect objects almost as small as an oil tanker. Russia has the Meteor and RESURS series of satellites. China and India have polar orbiting satellites as well.

The next generation of polar orbiting weather satellites was supposed to be the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). Designed to avoid duplication by the military (DMSP) and civilian (POES) low orbit weather satellites, it will pack a ton of exotic instrumentation.

The GAO Director of Information Technology Management Issues, told Congress: “NPOESS is a program in crisis”. The joint program, run by NASA, NOAA and the Defense Department was scheduled to begin replacing separate military and civilian weather satellite constellations by 2009. It’s still on the ground.

In March 2005, NPOESS was budgeted at $6.8 billion, but cost estimates ballooned to $13.8 billion a couple years ago. NPOESS was delayed until 2012 – three years late, putting long range weather forecasting in jeopardy.

In the end, NPOESS was split (again), after wasting billions in taxpayer subsidies.

NASA would manage the civilian Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) afternoon orbit satellites, for NOAA. The Pentagon would manage its own Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) for the morning orbit.

To insure the successful completion and launch of the JPSS spacecraft with no loss of continuity, NASA believed it would have to contract directly with the instrument and ground system developers. Sole source contracts would follow to the following firms:

  • Ball Aerospace and Technologies – Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS)
  • ITT Space Systems – Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS)
  • Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems – Advanced Technology Microware Sounder
  • Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems – JPSS/NPP Ground System.
  • Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems – Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)

The Pentagon, on the other hand, took until May 2011 to award an initial design contract for its Defense Weather Satellite. That contract remains with Northrop Grumman. So far, the JPSS/DWSS split looks like it’s increasing program costs.

The United States, meanwhile, has been forced to supplement observations from data provided by the European (EUMETSAT) series of weather satellites.

Whose side is Northrop Grumman on?

Presumably, their stockholders, contractors, military advisers and political allies who would benefit from an escalation in cyber warfare spending.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Weather Satellites Turn 50, Crisis at NOAA, Weather Sat: $8B Overbudget, 5 Yrs Late, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, F.I.A. FUBAR, Beyond the Moon, Space Cold War, Chinese Destroy Satellite – Create Space Debris Field, Space Radar Launch, Satellite Jam, Lockheed CEO: Space is Broken, NRO Rides Again, Canaveral Double Header for DOD, Advanced EHF – Wait for It, EELV Rocket Program Merges,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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