AFRL opens its Hack-A-Sat satellite hacking competition

The idea is that the ethical challenge encourages security researchers to focus their skills on solving the cybersecurity challenges of space systems. Participants have to learn about ground system requirements, how spacecraft orbit, power management, orbit predictions and how best to defend craft from cycber attacks, among other areas, for example.

Hack-A-Sat 3 is based on the development of Moonlighter (scheduled to launch in 2023), a satellite currently being designed and built “for the purposes of advancing security researcher knowledge and skills in securing space systems”, says the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), which is running the event.


In terms of the competition format, the top eight teams from the qualifying round will advance to the Hack-A-Sat 3 final event, which is described as an attack/defend-style Capture-the-Flag hacking competition. Teams will defend their satellite system while employing offensive measures on their opponents’ systems.

While in previous years the competition took place on physical hardware called a flatsat, this year it will be designed completely within digital twin software. The digital twin simulates a more realistic space environment for the competition compared with previous years, says the AFRL.


“Traditional cybersecurity is not effective enough. We need new ways to deter, defend and defeat those who threaten our collective security,” said Brig. Gen. John Olson, the U.S. Space Force’s mobilization assistant to the chief of space operations, and the Department of the Air Force’s chief data and artificial intelligence officer.

“Hack-A-Sat is an effort to bridge the security knowledge gap between the space and cybersecurity communities and incentivize innovation.”


The Hack-A-Sat 3 begins with a qualification event, open to all researchers, from 21-22 May, with teams competing in a Jeopardy-style format, earning points based on speed and accuracy.

A final event, geared toward ethical hackers with more advanced technical knowledge of space systems, takes place in fall 2022. The top three teams will receive $50,000 for first place, $30,000 for second place and $20,000 for third place.

Registration is open to the public and you can find out more information, or stay informed about all contest updates, at On twitter, the hashtag on #HackASat3 and the relevant account is @hack_a_sat.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) describes itself as the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force, leading the discovery and development of warfighting technologies for U.S. air, space, and cyberspace forces.

It points out thar satellites provide the world with data transmission for capabilities like GPS and credit card transactions.


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