Welcome!

Mobile IoT Authors: Rostyslav Demush, Mauro Carniel, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Mobile IoT

Mobile IoT: Article

Space Shuttle Wireless Part 3

Space Shuttle Wireless Part 3

In this concluding part of a three-part series on the space shuttle, WBT's David Geer looks at spread spectrum technology and its role in keeping encrypted data secure.

The communications link to the orbiter is a spread spectrum link, a technology that was invented by Hedy Lamar (believe it or not!) during WWII for secure radio transmissions. Spread spectrum makes signal jamming and eavesdropping much more challenging, an important issue for a radio signal coming from orbit, which could be intercepted from anywhere within its footprint. Eavesdropping can also be used to interfere with satellite transmissions via availability attacks, wherein interference from the other channel makes the signal unavailable.

The spread spectrum link uses a modulation scheme in which there are only 72KB of actual data sent. The data is convolutionally encoded (a complex form of modulation, which provides for error correction). This high data rate is like "taking an 11MHz signal and modulating that on top of the 72KB of coded data," says Phil Liebrecht, associate director and program manager for Mission Services, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

The process modulates 72KB of data with a much higher pseudo-noise code, which gives the orbiter link protection against interference from other RF signals. It also provides protection for those other signals to keep the orbiter signal from causing interference to the other S-band systems that are in use on earth. This interference could come from signals such as microwave links.

Encryption
Encrypted data can be delivered over almost any radio band, in space or otherwise. It's not the S and Ku bands that are secured, but rather the data that passes over them. NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado) assembles the FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standards), which are followed for all non-classified government communications.

The DES (Data Encryption Standard) is an older and popularly accepted, encryption standard, which met FIPS requirements. It used a 56-bit key. Then came the Triple DES with a 112-bit key, offering enhanced security. A new standard adopted just a few years ago is the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), based on the Rijndael algorithm. This standard is the latest direction for cryptography in commercial applications. For everything classified (secret, top secret) the NSA (National Security Agency) at Fort Mead, Maryland is responsible for the security algorithms.

One aspect of DES and AES is what is called symmetric encryption. "You apply the encryption algorithm to your data and then you apply it again to decrypt the data. The symmetric algorithms are very fast. People have demonstrated Rijndael chips that work on gigabit Ethernet connections," says Mark A. Sturza, senior advisor to Wavestream Corporation, 3CsysCo.com. (Wavestream manufactures amplifiers for the Ku and Ka bands, which will replace the current tube amplifiers used by NASA. These amplifiers are used on the ground and in space for transmissions to the shuttle.)

To do symmetric encryption you need to have a single key, which is used at both ends of the communication. Key exchange is done utilizing public key cryptography, making use of the well-known RSA algorithm created by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adelman. There are other methods of key exchange than RSA, but RSA has shown its strength over many years and is known to offer high security.

How Is Shuttle Mission Data Encrypted?
I had assumed that the data sent over NASA's S and Ku band systems during shuttle missions would be protected by one of the secret encryption methods from the NSA. "Actually I sort of doubt that," says Sturza. "It's probably DES or triple DES just because the AES is too new." Cryptography could be "NSA like" for the satellite command-and-control data, which is done with an NSA-approved cryptographic device. "It would be disastrous if high school students could start controlling satellites, especially military satellites," says Sturza.

For something as important as the space shuttle program, the algorithms and/or keys for encryption are probably changed regularly. "I would strongly suspect that they change it on a mission-by-mission basis," says Sturza. It's possible that this is done through hard coding using cryptoloaders such as the NSA uses. These devices are loaded with the keys at a secure location and then taken to the shuttle and plugged in so that the keys can be loaded into the embedded equipment.

Hardware
At the heart of shuttle mission communications is the NSP (Network Signal Processor), which is onboard the shuttle. This device routes and processes all commands, telemetry, and voice between the ground and the orbiter. Any command and voice data that are uplinked to the orbiter, specifically to its S-band PM uplink, or to the Ku-band forward link, are received by the NSP. Not all data is encrypted; data that is encrypted is recognized as such by the NSP and routed to the ComSec (Communications Security) device on the shuttle, where it is decrypted and routed back to the NSP. Data that is to be encrypted before leaving the shuttle is routed to the ComSec and returned to the NSP before being downlinked to the ground.

Differences in Voice and Data Handling
Voice and data are not treated the same throughout the process. When returning voice communications to the ground they are demultiplexed from the command data and converted to analog signals before being routed to the ACCU (Audio Central Control Unit). The command data on the other hand is routed to the GPCs (General Purpose Computers) within the data processing system via the flight forward MDM (multiplexer/demultiplexer).

The NSP digitizes analog voice received from the ACCU. The signal is multiplexed again with the telemetry data from the PCMMU (the pulse code modulation master unit); this multiplexed data is then ready for real-time transmission to the ground. The data is also routed to the operational recorders for archiving. Data is always encrypted at the ComSec before going to the NSP and back to the ground.

Conclusion
Clearly, communicating with the space shuttle is a much more complex proposal than just choosing a radio and talking, but as this series of articles has shown, the more we look into the details of just how the astronauts phone home the more complex it gets, and this is typical of space flight in general. Applications that are trivial in most environments require truly innovative and detailed solutions when exposed to the most hostile of environments. The astronauts' complete reliance on the technology that surrounds them means that every component is mission-critical and every detail needs to be specified and tested beyond what would seem to be common sense requirements.

While this series was in production, the shuttle Columbia was destroyed while re-entering the atmosphere, a tragic reminder of just how complex space technology is, and how easily it can fail. But as I look out my window into the night sky, I'm reminded that somewhere among the stars, one of those grand lights is an International Space Station, a wireless one. It's no longer current to say that we live in a Wireless World. With GPS for Mars coming so quickly, and a space-based Internet already in design, it's time to start talking about our Wireless Solar System.

More Stories By David Geer

David Geer is a contributing writer to WBT, a journalist, and a computer technician. He graduated from Lake Erie College in 1993 with a BA in psychology and has worked in the computer industry and in the media since 1998.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Carl J. Levine, Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1, will objectively discuss how DNS is used to solve Digital Transformation challenges in large SaaS applications, CDNs, AdTech platforms, and other demanding use cases. Carl J. Levine is the Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1. A veteran of the Internet Infrastructure space, he has over a decade of experience with startups, networking protocols and Internet infrastructure, combined with the unique ability to it...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
Gemini is Yahoo’s native and search advertising platform. To ensure the quality of a complex distributed system that spans multiple products and components and across various desktop websites and mobile app and web experiences – both Yahoo owned and operated and third-party syndication (supply), with complex interaction with more than a billion users and numerous advertisers globally (demand) – it becomes imperative to automate a set of end-to-end tests 24x7 to detect bugs and regression. In th...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
"MobiDev is a software development company and we do complex, custom software development for everybody from entrepreneurs to large enterprises," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Large industrial manufacturing organizations are adopting the agile principles of cloud software companies. The industrial manufacturing development process has not scaled over time. Now that design CAD teams are geographically distributed, centralizing their work is key. With large multi-gigabyte projects, outdated tools have stifled industrial team agility, time-to-market milestones, and impacted P&L stakeholders.
"Space Monkey by Vivent Smart Home is a product that is a distributed cloud-based edge storage network. Vivent Smart Home, our parent company, is a smart home provider that places a lot of hard drives across homes in North America," explained JT Olds, Director of Engineering, and Brandon Crowfeather, Product Manager, at Vivint Smart Home, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Akvelon is a software development company and we also provide consultancy services to folks who are looking to scale or accelerate their engineering roadmaps," explained Jeremiah Mothersell, Marketing Manager at Akvelon, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
"There's plenty of bandwidth out there but it's never in the right place. So what Cedexis does is uses data to work out the best pathways to get data from the origin to the person who wants to get it," explained Simon Jones, Evangelist and Head of Marketing at Cedexis, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5–7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buye...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Telecom Reseller has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Telecom Reseller reports on Unified Communications, UCaaS, BPaaS for enterprise and SMBs. They report extensively on both customer premises based solutions such as IP-PBX as well as cloud based and hosted platforms.
It is of utmost importance for the future success of WebRTC to ensure that interoperability is operational between web browsers and any WebRTC-compliant client. To be guaranteed as operational and effective, interoperability must be tested extensively by establishing WebRTC data and media connections between different web browsers running on different devices and operating systems. In his session at WebRTC Summit at @ThingsExpo, Dr. Alex Gouaillard, CEO and Founder of CoSMo Software, presented ...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, introduced two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a multip...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Evatronix will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Evatronix SA offers comprehensive solutions in the design and implementation of electronic systems, in CAD / CAM deployment, and also is a designer and manufacturer of advanced 3D scanners for professional applications.
Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Jack Norris, Senior Vice President, Data and Applications at MapR Technologies, reviewed best practices to ...
An increasing number of companies are creating products that combine data with analytical capabilities. Running interactive queries on Big Data requires complex architectures to store and query data effectively, typically involving data streams, an choosing efficient file format/database and multiple independent systems that are tied together through custom-engineered pipelines. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Tomer Levi, a senior software engineer at Intel’s Advanced Analytics gr...