In recent years, the use of edge computing has gained immense popularity across various sectors, including the defense industry.
With the evolution of space technology, edge computing has been expanded to space-based edge computing, providing additional benefits for high-tech defense operations. Space-based edge computing can enable faster data processing, improved communication capabilities, and enhanced security measures that may complement defense units to achieve the features of modern warfare.
However, space-based edge computing comes with its own set of challenges that must be addressed to fully exploit its potential. This article will examine how space-based edge computing can be leveraged for defense applications, the challenges involved, and how to overcome those to utilize the technology to its full potential.
What is space-based edge computing?
Space-based edge computing is a distributed computing paradigm that involves processing and analyzing data at or near the source of data generation in space. It combines the concept of edge computing, which involves processing data locally at the edge of a network, with space-based systems such as satellites and other spacecraft.
It is designed to reduce the latency and bandwidth requirements of data transmission by processing data as close to its source as possible. This is especially important for applications that require real-time processing and decision-making, such as those in the fields of earth observation, climate monitoring, and disaster management.
Space-based edge computing systems typically involve a network of interconnected space-based and ground-based nodes that work together to process and analyze data. These nodes may include satellites, drones, ground stations, and other devices that collect and transmit data to the edge of the network.
By leveraging the power of distributed computing, space-based edge computing enables organizations to process and analyze massive amounts of data in real time, making it possible to quickly identify patterns, anomalies, and trends that might otherwise go unnoticed.
This can help organizations to make more informed decisions and respond more quickly to changing conditions, such as in defense operations.
Leveraging Space-Based Edge Computing in Defense Applications
Space-based Edge computing has become particularly crucial in the defense sector, where split-second synchronization and decision-making can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The advent of space-based edge computing has opened up new opportunities for the defense industry, providing reliable and secure access to critical information in remote and challenging environments. This is the main demand-driving factor in the market, leading to substantial growth.
According to data insights from BIS Research, the global space-based edge computing market is estimated to reach $1,807.3 million in 2033 from $200.9 million in 2022, at a CAGR of 22.64% during the forecast period 2023-2033.
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The projected growth is owing to the demand in the defense sector as space-based edge computing has the following applications:
• One example of the potential of space-based edge computing in defense is the use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. These UASs can collect data using sensors such as cameras, infrared (IR), and electro-optical (EO) systems.
By processing all the data on platforms and communicating with each other in a “mesh network,” these UASs can make autonomous decisions as a distributed cluster of assets. This approach maximizes bandwidth and reduces the risk of system overload.
• In land-based operations, by bringing analytical data storage and networking resources closer to where data is being collected, edge computing reduces bandwidth usage and speeds up reaction times.
This technology has become even more critical with the introduction of 5G technology and advancements in data processing times. In remote areas with limited internet access, soldiers can now access confidential information such as weather data, computer performance data, and other data to make informed decisions.
• In airborne operations, space-based edge computing provides an enormous advantage in situational awareness and rapid decision-making. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has implemented a wide range of automated sources that give pilots access to information beyond what is provided to them.
For example, during a technological exercise for the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), Amazon Web Services (AWS) demonstrated the ability to implement a tactical edge node solution using highly robust network access and communications. This solution incorporated skills such as DevSecOps, implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications, Kubernetes Cluster at the edge, and the capacity to transfer development code from unclassified to classified networks.
• In naval operations, space-based edge computing can play a crucial role in sending and receiving information with reduced delay and more sorted information to the ships. The U.S. Navy is preparing to make significant investments in cloud computing infrastructure installed on ships as part of its long-term plan for network-centric naval combat.
Tactical edge computing infrastructure will be installed on aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, and other vessels, enabling the U.S. Navy to operate data-rich applications far from U.S. territory and without the help of a centralized network.
Moreover, established research agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have undertaken projects employing space-based edge computing.
For instance, the Blackjack program has been under DARPA since 2017 to develop a global, high-speed network in low Earth orbit (LEO) that is more connected, resilient, and persistent than already available National Security Space (NSS) assets. The launch of Blackjack is scheduled to begin in 2024.
The goal is to achieve LEO performance comparable to that of current geosynchronous systems but with a lower cost of $6 million per orbital node while meeting the size, weight, and power constraints of the commercial bus.
According to the DARPA agency, Blackjack will incorporate edge computing that will enable the constellation to quickly analyze data and improve the situational awareness of the military, leading to faster decision-making.
Moreover, the DARPA agency aims to demonstrate autonomous orbital operations, which include on-orbit distributed decision processors, to improve satellite management.
The Cybersecurity Challenge
The potential risk of cyberattacks on space-based edge computing devices can compromise the integrity and security of sensitive data, leading to catastrophic consequences.
Space-based edge computing faces numerous cybersecurity challenges that require effective solutions to mitigate the risks. These challenges can be broadly categorized into the following:
1. Data Storage, Backup, and Protection Risks: The lack of physical security safeguards in edge computing environments presents a significant risk for data stored at the edge. Attackers could easily copy data from memory sticks or remove disks from edge computing resources, potentially stealing entire databases. Additionally, constrained local storage options at edge computing facilities may make it difficult or impossible to back up crucial files, leaving no backup copy to restore the database in the event of an incident.
2. Perimeter Defense Risks: Edge computing poses challenges for perimeter defense as it widens the IT perimeter. The credentials for edge systems are often saved at the edge since these systems need to authenticate their applications with partner apps in the data center. A compromise in edge security could reveal login information for data center assets, greatly extending the extent of the security incident. Furthermore, edge architecture variances in hosting may limit security options, making it more challenging to deal with perimeter attacks.
3. Risks Associated with Cloud Computing: Different cloud solutions handle edge components in various ways, and the specific connection between the edge and the cloud determines the type of hazards associated with cloud computing. Providing safe access to cloud apps and resources might be difficult, particularly if edge devices are simple controllers, as is often the case. Therefore, access control, edge-to-cloud connection, and other security measures must be carefully considered.
4. Software Vulnerabilities: Software vulnerabilities, which are defects in the code that could allow attackers to access a system, are a potential weakness that must be addressed. Mistakes in software coding or design can be the cause of these vulnerabilities. Software with vulnerability management capabilities actively searches the network for vulnerabilities, identifies them, and provides suggestions on how to fix them, reducing the possibility of further security breaches.
Overcoming the Risks
1. Device Discovery: The initial step in securing edge computing networks is device discovery. It involves identifying and documenting every device on the network to ensure that a database of each device and the data it produces is maintained. This information also includes identifying the specific threats each device poses. Using monitoring tools helps to keep track of all devices and ensures prompt intrusion detection.
2. Network Edge Security: Space-based edge computing requires direct internet access to use cloud services. This increases the risk of hostile activity coming from the internet and into the company network. However, effective network edge security provides a more secure and reliable connection to company resources through the internet. Anti-malware, web filtering, next-generation firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems are some of the options available for network edge security.
3. Cloud Edge Security: Edge computing is susceptible to attacks because data must be transmitted from the edge to the cloud and vice versa. Robust cloud security prioritizes important security elements such as encryption for both local data storage and data transmission between edge devices and the network core.
Project OpenTitan: Google’s Initiative
In order to provide security measures to the industry at large, Google opened sourced a project in 2019 after introducing chip-level security into its data centers.
Project OpenTitan, which also includes features such as self-testing for memory tampering on each processor boot, seeks to generate the maximum amount of openness and security at the chip level.
To create the standard and roll out the technology through 2022 and far beyond, Google has teamed up with data giants such as Western Digital and Seagate.
U.S. Space Force’s Initiative to Solve Edge Computing Challenges in Space
In 2022, Spacewerx, the innovation arm of the U.S. Space Force, partnered with Wallaroo Labs, a New York-based startup, to solve edge computing challenges in space.
Using Wallaroo’s AI/ML platform, the U.S. Space Force (USSF) is simulating AI and machine learning algorithms on edge computers in space to address the challenge of the comparative lack of compute capacity aboard a spacecraft compared to terrestrial capacity.
With the growth of commercial space ventures and the expansion of space-based activities beyond Earth’s orbit, there will be a greater need for processing and analyzing vast amounts of data in real time.
Space-based edge computing can provide the necessary computational power to make this possible while also reducing the reliance on Earth-based resources and infrastructure.
The development of new technologies, such as AI and ML, is expected to improve the efficiency and security of space-based edge computing.
As a result, the potential applications of space-based edge computing in defense, scientific research, and commercial activities are expected to continue to expand, driving innovation and progress in the field of space exploration.
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