Hudson Sutherland, CGI Federal

William H. "Hudson" Sutherland

Director, Consulting Expert

Space is no longer the final frontier—it is the emerging new frontier. Almost every industry is developing solutions that leverage space services, such as maritime tracking information, robust weather data, augmented aviation information, satellite communications, geospatial imagery and innovative earth-sensing information. 

Space has become a highly commercialized and strategic domain. Therefore, commercial entities, U.S. government agencies and international partners are investing in and leveraging new technologies that rely on space-based capabilities. 

The dramatic increase in new constellations of satellites, coupled with those already there and the data they generate or transmit, has given rise to an emerging new discipline—Space Traffic Management (STM). The need for STM continues to grow as space becomes a recognized warfighting domain. 
STM arises from a common operating picture (COP) and enhanced space situational awareness (SSA). The need for it overlaps many commercial domains, government entities and ongoing scientific research. 

STM requires continued and deliberate investment in a multi-source, multi-sensor effort to catalog space objects, track location and trajectory, and perform critical assessment of collision risk. More importantly, the STM mission must also account for data security, governance and provenance to ensure the data integrity of the STM architecture. 

The owners of space-related data—military, other federal agencies, commercial interests and their international counterparts—face a multi-faceted challenge:  Enabling collaboration while providing secure and trusted information. . Commercial entities are looking for opportunities to generate revenue as part of their collaboration, while military agencies are looking for secure data they can trust. Scientific and educational organizations are looking for ease of access with minimal cost. 

Data security, governance and provenance serve as the enabling technology domains to meet these needs in all their variety.

Maintaining data provenance

Well-equipped to enable data provenance, blockchain technology allows for a distributed data architecture versus a consolidated, monolithic data source. It also writes an immutable record of all data access, transformations and transactions that occur to the data elements. Once this information is committed to the blockchain record, no one can change it. This immutable record provides an audit capability to perform post mortem investigations in the event a data source is determined to be a suspect. 

A simple SSA use case:  Multiple ground-based sensors are providing a two-line element set data for the same space object when one sensor unexpectedly deviates from the other sources. An organization that uses blockchain as a consensus model and event engine will receive an alert when a deviation first occurs. Further review of the blockchain record can reveal additional information to help the organization understand what caused the divergence.

Data security

By design, blockchain uses multiple types of cryptographic algorithms and asymmetric-key algorithms to safeguard data. Since blockchain operates on a multi-node network with distributed ledger, each node on the network must agree with any meta-data element change. Unless all nodes agree, the meta-data does not change and the request generates an alert. The immutable record property of blockchain enables additional security capabilities.

Attribute Based Access Control (ABAC) provides a greater level of data security when users access information. ABAC controls access down to the cell level of the data and, when coupled with blockchain as a data governance engine, provides an immutable record of anyone who has accessed that data. Again, this enables postmortem activities in the event of data spillage. 

Data governance

Blockchain enables the implementation of smart contracts--predefined logic functions built into the blockchain that execute when predetermined terms and conditions are met. This capability enables commercial licensing, based on transactions, versus time-based access. 

For instance, STM suppliers or consumers could agree to use a consumption model similar to cloud services. This model, substantiated in the blockchain smart contract, enables a commerce monetization platform. An ease-of-use platform to monetize investments would entice commercial suppliers and vendors to collaborate. 

Maintaining space dominance

The U.S. must maintain its leadership in the space domain by continuing to innovate and transform technology. U.S. government organizations are leveraging the utility of blockchain to meet their needs and requirements for data security, governance and provenance. Enabling secure, trusted sharing of data is the only way to achieve a shared Space Common Operating Picture. 

About this author

Hudson Sutherland, CGI Federal

William H. "Hudson" Sutherland

Director, Consulting Expert

Hudson Sutherland is an Army veteran and business consultant with extensive leadership experience, currently working in CGI Federal Defense programs. Hudson is a tech-savvy leader and life-long learner, who eagerly embraces challenges. He is a blockchain/distributed ledger technology subject matter expert with extensive experience managing ...