SpaceX began encrypting Falcon 9 telemetry after it was published by radio amateurs
SpaceX is hardly an ordinary aerospace company. Its head puts everything on Twitter during launch and shares the details in advance, usually published in press releases. The company streams almost all launches live, even prototypes that tend to explode. Now it turns out that SpaceX hasn’t even encrypted the Falcon 9’s telemetry transmission … until now. Unfortunately, the activity of radio amateurs has forced SpaceX to increase security.
It all started a few weeks ago when members of the Reddit forums could capture a 2232.5 MHz telemetry downlink from a Falcon 9 booster. They were immediately able to grab some interesting pieces of plaintext from an unencrypted channel. With a little more work, radio amateurs managed to get several images from the spacecraft cameras.
After the discovery became public, other SpaceX fans attempted to receive data from Starship during prototype testing. However, the company decided to encrypt them. The received signal looks like just noise. Now, it looks like the same thing is happening with Falcon 9. When trying to extract data during the last launch of the Falcon 9, enthusiasts who had previously read the data found that the information is now encrypted. Several tweets from SpaceX engineers confirm that the company took this step due to attempts to decode the rocket’s telemetry signal.
Naturally, the community of radio amateurs is upset with this move of the company. The consensus among these groups is that SpaceX didn’t need to encrypt the signal because they weren’t doing anything wrong. This is true, but even well-meaning decoders must admit that missile telemetry can be abused. Surely, at SpaceX, many panicked about the possibility of leakage of confidential data through telemetry transmission. SpaceX also has contracts related to US national security. The government would not be happy to see at least some classified information in the publicly available telemetry transcript.