Pete Zaitcev (zaitcev) wrote,
Pete Zaitcev
zaitcev

SpaceBelt whitepaper

I pay a special attention to my hometown rocket enterprise, Firefly. So, it didn't escape my notice when Dr. Tom Markusic mentioned SunBelt in the SatMagazine as a potential user of launch services:

Cloud Constellation Corporation capped off 2018 funding announcements with a $100 million capital raise for space-based data centers [...]

Not a large amount of funding, but nonetheless, what are they trying to do? The official answer is provided in the whitepaper on their website.

The orbiting belt provides a greater level of security, independence from jurisdictional control, and eliminating the need for terrestrial hops for a truly worldwide network. Access to the global network is via direct satellite links, providing for a level of flexibility and security unheard of in terrestrial networks.

SpaceBelt provides a solution – a space-based storage layer for highly sensitive data providing isolation from conventional internet networks, extreme physical isolation, and sovereign independent data storage resources.

Although not pictured in the illustrations, text permits users direct access, which will become important later:

Clients can purchase or lease specialized very-small-aperture terminals (VSATs) which have customized SpaceBelt transceivers allowing highly-secure access to the network.

Interesting. But a few thoughts spring to mind.

Isolation from the Internet is vulnerable to the usual gateway problem, unintentional or malicious. If only application-level access is provided, a compromised gateway only accesses its own account. So that's fine. However, if state security services were able to insert malware into Iran's nuclear facilities, I think that the isolation may not be as impregnable as purported.

Consider also that system control has to be provided somehow, so they must have a control facility. In terms of vulnerabilities to governments and physical attacks, it is an equivalent of a datacenter hosting the intercontinental cluster's control plane, located at the point where master ground station is. In case of SpaceBelt, it is identified as "Network Management Center".

In addition, the space location invites a new spectrum of physical attacks: now the adversary can cook your data with microwaves or lasers, instead of launching ICBMs. It's a significantly lower barrier to the entry.

Turning around, it might be cheaper to store the data where the NMC is, since the physical security measures are the same, but vulnerabilities are smaller.

Of course the physical security includes a legal aspect. The whitepaper nods to "jurisdictional independence" several times. They don't explain what they mean, but they may be trying to imply that the data sent from the ground to the SpaceBelt does not traverse the ground infrastructure where NMC is located, and therefore is not a subject to any legal restrictions there, such as GDPR.

Very nice, and IANAL, but doesn't Outer Space Treaty establishes a regime of the absolute responsibility of signatory nations? I only know that OST is quite unlike the Law of The Sea: because of the absolute responsibility there is no salvage. Therefore, a case can be made, if the responsible nation is under GDPR, the whole SunBelt is too.

The above considerations apply to the "sovereign" or national data, but the international business faces more. The whitepaper implies that accessing data may be a simple matter of "leasing VSATs", but the governments still have the powers to deny this access. Usually the radio frequency licensing is involved, such as the case of OneWeb in Russia. The whitepaper mentions using traditional GSO comsats as relays, thus shifting the radio spectrum licensing hurdles onto the comsat operators. But there may be outright bans as well. I'm sure the Communist government of mainland China will not be happy if SunBelt users start downloading Falun Gong literature from space.

One other thing. If frying SpaceBelt with lasers might be too hard, there are other ways. Russia, for example, is experimenting with a rogue satellite that approaches comsats. It's not doing anything too bad to them at present, but so much for the "extreme physical isolation". If you thought that using SunBelt VSAT will isolate you from the risk of Russian submarines tapping undersea cables, then you might want to reconsider.

Overall, it's not like I would not love to work at Cloud Constellation Corporation, implementing the basic technologies their project needs. Sooner or later, humanity will have computing in space, might as well do it now. But their pitch needs work.

Finally, for your amusement:

In the future, the SpaceBelt system will be enabled to host docker containers allowing for on-orbit data processing in-situ with data storage.

Congratulations, Docker. You've became the xerox of cloud. (In the U.S., Xerox was ultimately successful is fighting the dillution: everyone now uses the word "photocopy". Not that litigation helped them to remain relevant.)

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