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Space Governance Lab confronts ‘final frontier’ in policy and security

Nov 21, 2023

In the tradition of its founder Elinor Ostrom, whose groundbreaking research on the governance of “the commons” earned a Nobel Memorial Prize, the Indiana University Ostrom Workshop has long been a gathering place for scholars who specialize in public spaces. And no public space is more public, or more spacious, than outer space.

Scott Shackelford stands at a table Scott Shackelford, executive director of the Ostrom Workshop, is also the principal investigator on CyberCorps, a multidisciplinary scholarship program focused on training future cybersecurity leaders. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University

In recognition of this “final frontier” in the field, the Ostrom Workshop recently established the Space Governance Lab. The goal is to explore the complex mix of challenges — political, legal, technical, social — that result from so many new players, including governments and private corporations, rushing into the once largely empty space beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Space law and space policy are very hot topics these days,” said Eytan Tepper, an IU visiting assistant professor and director of the Space Governance Lab. “By now, everyone from the White House on down is aware we are very dependent on space-based infrastructure, like satellites. The military is dependent; the economy is dependent. We are dependent in our daily life, and they are vulnerable to cyberattacks. So the question has become, ‘What do we do about it?’”

As part of the response, the Ostrom Workshop recently launched the Space Cybersecurity Digital Badge program at the IU Kelley School of Business. This noncredit certificate is the world’s first academic program focused exclusively on space governance and space cybersecurity. After completing the program, students are eligible for a three-credit waiver toward Kelley’s Certificate in Cybersecurity Management Certificate and, if they are interested in going further, IU’s master’s degree program in cybersecurity risk management.

“This space cybersecurity program is the first of its kind nationally or internationally,” said Scott Shackelford, provost professor of business law and ethics at the IU Kelley School of Business and executive director of the Ostrom Workshop. “We’re doing this because it’s important, and because no one else was stepping up. This generation of students is the first who will be going out into the world to manage these cybersecurity issues in the space context.”

IU’s efforts are supported under a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a supplement to 2020’s $2.25 million NSF award that established IU’s CyberCorps program. Shackelford is also the principal investigator on CyberCorps, a multidisciplinary scholarship program focused on training future cybersecurity leaders who will begin their careers in government service.

The badge program equips students with technical skills to protect vulnerable networks, intellectual property and personal information from cyberattacks. Shackelford is also executive director of the IU Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research and was the founding chair of the IU Cybersecurity Risk Management Program.

The other part of the Space Governance Lab engages students in schools such as the Maurer School of Law; the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering; the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

“In our programs, we’re tackling both the technical side and the law and policy side,” Tepper said. “We’re exploring the ways in which we’re vulnerable in space because, while we know that we are vulnerable, we don’t necessarily understand all of the ways in which we’re vulnerable. And we’re training personnel because there are simply very few people in the country who know how to deal with these challenges. If a space company wants to hire an expert on cybersecurity in space right now, for example, there’s almost nobody.”

James Ramano sits with his laptop IU Maurer School of Law student James Romano has served as a research assistant at the Space Governance Lab and co-founded the Space Law Society. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University

Among the existing global experts who have delivered guest lectures at the Space Governance Lab are Scott Nelson, director of academic engagement at U.S. Cyber Command; Erin Miller, executive director of the Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center; Kassandra Vogel, principal space systems security architect at Blue Origin; and Nick Saunders, chief cybersecurity and data officer for government systems at Viasat Inc., a satellite communications provider that famously suffered a cyberattack on its network in Ukraine on the outset of the Russian invasion.

“A lot of the existing space regulations are focused on governments — the remnants of the era of the U.S. versus the Soviet Union,” Tepper said. “Now, there are more commercial issues cropping up: communications, space traffic control, property rights, resource exploitation and mining. These are all issues we’re exploring.”

A second-year student at the Maurer School of Law, James Romano was drawn to the Space Governance Lab by the opportunity to join the ranks of the first students educated to navigate these challenges. He learned about the program after Shackelford spoke at IU’s chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, of which Romano is a co-founder.

“I wrote my undergraduate thesis on private liability in outer space, so when I learned that the Ostrom Workshop was launching a program focused on public policy in space, it felt like opportunity knocking,” said Romano, who also majored in international law at the Hamilton Lugar School the first year that degree program was offered. “I knew I had to get on board.”

Over the past year, Romano has served as a research assistant at the Space Governance Lab. He also co-founded the Space Law Society at the Maurer School.

The group, which serves as a focal point for students interested in space law, has over 30 members. It has hosted several notable speakers, including the deputy general counsel for the World Trade Centers Association, Clark Lackert, who has written about trademark law in space.

Recently, Romano also co-authored a law review article on space cybersecurity with Tepper and Shackelford that will be submitted for publication in 2024. The experience, as well as his other work at the Space Governance Lab, were among the credentials that helped secure his position as a 2023-24 Rumsfeld Graduate Fellow, a fellowship for students who aspire to careers in public service.

“I’m proud of my time at the Space Governance Lab, and of my work to bring some great speakers to campus,” Romano said. “The amount of interest — and opportunity — in this field seems almost endless right now.”

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Kevin Fryling

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