Virginia Tech, international partners debut first-of-its kind test bed for resiliency, security in space-based internet networks | VTx

The soaring goal of Elon Musk’s Starlink and other satellite internet projects is to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe. But there are still some big questions that need to be answered — including how to build a resilient, secure network in space.

To examine such questions, Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) researchers at Virginia Tech have partnered with the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom to build the world’s first hardware-in-the-loop test bed that emulates the changing connectivity of a mega satellite constellation at scale. The researchers introduced the test bed at an intercontinental workshop July 12-13.

“We wanted to establish a shared community vision and brainstorm about what would be possible and what would be most useful in a space networking infrastructure,” said CCI researcher Jonathan Black, professor of aerospace engineering.

Besides uniting researchers and funding agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, the interdisciplinary workshop involved members of the satellite and aerospace community as well as the computer networking and communication communities, including researchers from [email protected] in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research ([email protected]).

Workshop speakers included representatives from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Science Foundation as well as Ella Atkins, Fred D. Durham Chair and incoming department head for the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

“In order to repair, upgrade, and refuel in space, we need to build for efficiency and disruption,” said Atkins, who called into the workshop from her rural home via Starlink. “By grounding communications and networking in long-term space robotics, our researchers are building the future of space engineering.”

According to Atkins and Black, the future of space engineering requires effective communication — and the next step is connecting satellite networks.

Breaking out of space siloes

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