New Space and Tech

Moonlighter, the World’s First Hacking Test Bed in Space

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
June 5, 2023
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Moonlighter, the World’s First Hacking Test Bed in Space
Moonlighter larger image

Six miniature satellites called CubeSats are set to launch on SpaceX’s 28th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be deployed.

Among them, the Aerospace Corporation will launch Moonlighter, the world’s first and only hacking sandbox in space. A hacking sandbox is a form of cyber security technology that allows hackers to perform tests that could identify methods for preventing the hacking of satellite systems in space. Through this project, which is sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory and supported by Nanoracks, Aerospace will introduce the nation’s top cyber professionals to Moonlighter and its ability to fill gaps in cyber security testing in space.

Developed in partnership with Space Systems Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory, Moonlighter, a mid-size 3U nanosatellite, will enable real-time cyber security testing in orbit for the first time. Moonlighter will allow cyber security professionals and some of the world’s best hackers to do space-based cyber experiments that are repeatable, realistic, and secure.

“We wanted to build something new from the ground up to fill gaps in cyber activities in space, where the vehicles to do cyber security testing in orbit have not existed,” said Aaron Myrick, project leader for Aerospace. “When we say it’s a sandbox, Moonlighter is like a playground where we provide the space and the tools for professional hackers to perform cyber exercises and test out new technology. We hope this will lead to more cyber-resilient architectures for future space missions.”

Moonlighter will be part of Hack-A-Sat 4, an annual challenge supported by the Aerospace Corporation, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Space Force, where finalists will get the chance to hack the CubeSat in orbit during DEF CON, a convention for hackers held in August. With a growing space-based economy and increasing competition in the space environment, Myrick said Moonlighter is a critical tool for strengthening cyber security in space.

In addition to Moonlighter, five student-developed CubeSats are also launching on SpaceX CRS-28. These CubeSats are part of the Canadian CubeSat Project, which was created to increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and prepare the future space industry workforce.

SpaceX CRS-28 is targeted for launch no earlier than June 3 at 12:35 p.m. EDT. This mission will include multiple ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads. To learn more about all ISS National Lab-sponsored research on this mission, please visit our launch page.

About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory:

The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.