Earlier this summer, the Information Technology Industry Council announced it had acquired the Space Enterprise Council. They did this with the hopes of promoting U.S. national security space programs, space cybersecurity, and space education. I had to find out what that meant, and I got the chance, speaking to Gordon Bitko, executive vice president of Policy at ITI.
Gordon Bitko The background is the Space Enterprise Council’s been around for a long time, for more than 20 years. It was created because the government, NASA and the Department of Commerce and others saw that there was a commercial space industry even back then, and they really wanted there to be a singular group that they could engage with and discuss critical matters. What’s happened, what’s changed over time is that commercial space has become much more important. You look at the portfolio of IPI member companies and many of them space has become more and more important. And there is this real overlap of interest now between pure space companies and technology companies. So this was a great opportunity for IPI, which is already working on many of the issues that matter to technology and space, for us to get a quick leg up and to start working on these space policy issues with David Logsdon, with a group of companies who’ve been doing this for a long time.
Eric White Yeah. Can you just lay out a couple of the areas that your member companies and some of the member companies, obviously, of the Space Enterprise Council, but what fascinates you all about space?
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Gordon Bitko Well, I’m going to answer that personally first, Eric, and say I’ve been fascinated with space for my whole career in one way or another, and I’m going to date myself here. I started out in school as a studying engineering and actually studying aerospace engineering and hoping I was going to do something cool about space. And then the Cold War ended and a lot of what looked like exciting opportunities all of a sudden weren’t exciting opportunities anymore. But it’s always been something that was of interest and fascinating to me. So on a personal level, that certainly was not the most important factor, but not something that, it was always present in my mind that space is something really cool and interesting. But to get to the heart of the question that you’re asking, all of our member companies focus on critical issues, that there is this real big synergy now, artificial intelligence and the huge volumes of data that are growing everywhere. Space is just another way. Space observation systems are just another way that we’re collecting huge volumes of data for all sorts of important uses. There’s more than 50 different federal agencies who use or collect or manage or are involved in those processes in one way or another, collecting data from space for things like Earth observation. And so many of our member companies have been involved in a lot of that work for years at the terrestrial side, at the Where is that data going? How is it being managed? How is it being used? And most importantly now, how is it being secured? Cybersecurity is a critical matter. If space becomes a critical industry sector, and it certainly seems like that’s that the prevailing wind is blowing in that direction right now, Eric, then we have to think longer and harder and deeper maybe about how do we secure space than almost any other industry sector. The same challenges exist, but are even harder when you’re dealing with something that’s up in space and changing it out, fixing it, dealing with a problem, patching it. Is different than a terrestrial computer that’s sitting under your desk or in a data center that’s easy to access and easy to test fixes and make updates.
Eric White So that may have helped answer the next question I’m going to ask you, which is what role will ITI be playing in the Space Enterprise Council’s day-to-day activities?
Gordon Bitko Yeah, great question. The Space Enterprise Council is what we would call an affiliate program of ITI. What that means is that there are companies that are members of just the Space Enterprise Council. They’re not full members of ITI. A lot of the companies that are in the Space Enterprise Council are our space startups. There’s a huge booming community of small companies who see lots of opportunities in space. They’re not really fit for purpose, aligned well with ITIs broader membership in that there are these more focused companies just working on space issues. There are some larger companies there as well that are focused on space. So there’s a lot of synergy, but we think of them as an affiliate program. We’re not going to represent those companies on broader issues that ITI works on. Tax and trade, for example. But at the same time, many of the issues that I just mentioned, cybersecurity or emerging innovative technologies, things like artificial intelligence, there is a really good alignment. And so it’s an opportunity for us to advocate effectively on both fronts on the broader ITI front, and on the space specific front on those issues where frankly the policy needs and challenges and interest, they do match really well.
Eric White Got it. And in your fascination with space and ITIs reviews of it, what are some of the cybersecurity issues that you see prevailing in the commercial space industry? And on the public side, what else can NASA be doing to improve cybersecurity overall?
Gordon Bitko Well, I think a lot of that starts, Eric, at the same point that we would say cybersecurity needs to start in general, which is there needs to be a really good understanding of the risks. What are the threats that are out there? How are those being managed effectively? And there is, of course, a full spectrum of solutions both in general and with regard to space. Many of those go back to some of the principles that the administration is pushing as broader cybersecurity solutions, zero trust architectures being a really good example of that, the understanding that you want to minimize who has access and manage privileges and take the defensive assumption that there are intruders and they’re gaining access. Those sort of things, you can apply that model to space systems, as well as you can to anything else. And we certainly are very supportive of that. You can apply the same principles for secure software development that we see emerging in the general commercial space. So you need to understand the provenance of your software, how it’s been developed and how it’s being used, and how are you assuring yourself and your customers that it’s reliable. If anything, things like that are even more important when, again, you’re talking about a space system that, as I noted already, might be harder to maintain an update once it’s been launched, once it’s been in operation. It can’t really afford to have downtime. You can’t really afford to patch it or maintain it or make changes in the same way that you can. But the same model applies, the same understanding of think about the risk and think about how do you manage that risk? And that’s again, an area where we see that there’s this great overlap, there’s this great synergy. I think one other thing to think about, Eric, that’s an important challenge to understand is, we’re at a time where on the ground computational power is almost unlimited. You can always throw more servers, more hardware, more solutions. You can’t always do that in space. And so the reason why I bring that up as an example, is right now we’re about to embark on a journey where we’re going to change our cryptographic systems. We’re going to move from our current standards to ones that are resistant to quantum computers. And that is a necessary thing from a cybersecurity standpoint. But also, it takes a lot more computing power to do that. And that’s the sort of thing that we need to think about. How does that applied in space? Are we going to have the right sort of computing power to do that to ensure that we’re maintaining secure and reliable cryptographic systems between ground and space?
Eric White Got it. And every industry that where industry and government intersect, there are these good government groups, and I guess coalitions. You’re one of them for the IT sector. What role does the Space Enterprise Council play? Just because, they lean on each other a lot more industry and government than any other sector, I feel like. At least in my study of it, my brief time looking into it.
Gordon Bitko There is, I think, unique interdependency relationship between government and industry when it comes to space. You’re right about that Eric. One of the things that we’ve seen that was a motivating factor for driving ITI to move in this direction to acquire this program, is the increasing emphasis on that important interdependency. I’m sure you’ve seen the [Federal Communications Commission (FCC)] announced their Space Bureau recently. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission made recommendations about identifying space as a critical industry sector. Kemba Warden when she was out at [National Security Agency (NSA)], the acting national cyber director, made reference to the critical importance of space as a sector. [Department of Defense (DoD)] just opened a number of new offices that are focused on commercial space activity, and the list goes on and on. So there is an incredible interdependency and an understanding of that, I think, on the part of both industry and government that success is only going to come together. And that’s even more true here than it is in technology writ large. What does that mean then, for what the role is of the of the Space Council? The Space Council, the Space Enterprise Council has already done work, has a really great track record, working with CISA, for example, in the development of some of their thinking about space as a critical industry sector, and what would a zero trust architecture look like in space. And I would envision that we’ll continue to do even more of that type of work as space becomes more and more important to our national economy. And they’ll go even beyond that, Eric, to note that the Space Enterprise Council actually has had and will need to renew. But we are moving forward with this memorandum of understanding with partner associations in other countries who are also heavily involved in commercial space. And so I think that there’s a role there as well to ensure communication and collaboration, globally when it comes to these space policy issues, it’s not just solely a U.S. issue.
Eric White You talked a little bit about what federal agencies are doing right now to recognize the importance of commercial space. Is there anything more that can be done other than just keep on collaborating and keep the lines of communication open? I’ve seen some pretty good relationships between regulators and companies. You haven’t heard too much about dustups going into the public realm and people complaining about they can’t do certain things, but what could be done to help grow it even more?
Gordon Bitko Yeah, the answer is there’s always more that can be done. But you’re right, as the working premise, Eric, that I think relationships in general are good so it’s not a we need to fix a broken relationship or repair anything. But on the flip side, technology, the pace of it is accelerating every day. We hear about new use cases for artificial intelligence or for other emerging technologies. Lots of different federal agencies trying to use those technologies, also benefiting from space, from data that are collected and being used. Really, the question is, as we’re thinking about things like artificial intelligence and putting in place risk management frameworks, and parameters about how those technologies can be used to think about space as one of those use case scenarios to understand how is that sort of technology going to be used and what are the unique aspects of it for space? When does it makes sense to have a unique set of space requirements for those types of technologies? Agencies really need to work with industry on that and say, Hey, we see this great capability, we see this great technology, how can we apply it and help us manage this huge volume of Earth observation data that we’re collecting now? For example. And what does that mean for Department of Agriculture programs that are dependent on all that data to make land use decisions? So it’s not we need to fix regulation. It’s we need to understand where is the technology going? And how is it evolving and how does industry work effectively with government so that we can all move forward collectively on that front?
Gordon Bitko Just to be clear, while we are managing the program as an affiliate, it is a part of ITI. The Space Enterprise Council is not a separate organization. It’s the membership of the Space Enterprise Council is open to ITI companies or any other companies who want to participate in space specific policy. It’s not a one or the other, and we certainly are already talking to any number of our current member companies who have interests in space to have them participating and hear their voices. So I just want to be clear about that point, Eric, it’s not two separate organizations. The membership, we’re managing it according to our requirements, but we’re not going to think about it as cybersecurity policy and cybersecurity policy for space. We’re going to tackle those issues collectively. So I think that’s one thing. But then to the other, what are we doing going forward? I think that there’s an unlimited number of things that we can be doing going forward. There are so many use cases, like I said, across all of these different agencies that people don’t even stop and really think and understand that the role that the space industry has, the role that the commercial space sector has across our lives nowadays. And so I think that there are a lot of opportunities where now that the Space Enterprise Council has this home at ITI, we’re going to look to leverage those relationships across government to really try to drive effective policy across the board.
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