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Cryptography in ICE Cubes

A compact ESA experiment aimed at enhancing cybersecurity for future space missions is operational in Europe’s Columbus module of the International Space Station, running in part on a Raspberry Pi Zero computer costing just a few euros.

Larger, more expensive missions like GPS satellites and interplanetary spacecraft use special hardened computers that are carefully proofed against cosmic rays and other things lurking in the endless night out there. But these solutions are expensive and often bulky and heavy; if you are trying to minimise costs and volume to launch a constellation or a student project, hardening isn’t always an option.

But as services delivered by satellites of all sizes form an increasing element of everyday life, interest in assured satellite cybersecurity is growing. Encryption in space can be tricky. Even if you do everything right, a cosmic ray might come along and flip one bit, sabotaging the whole security protocol.

CryptIC was designed to test several approaches to the encryption problem for non rad-hardened systems, and meant to run continuously for at least a year on-board the ICE Cubes facility.  It was operated simply via a laptop at ESA’s technical centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, routed via the ICE Cubes operator, Space Applications Services, in Brussels.

For more information on CryptIC, see the links below.

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Different approaches to encryption in non-radiation hardened systems being tested

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