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Exclusive: SpaceX, Led by Musk, Developing Spy Satellite Network for US Intelligence, Sources Report

Exclusive: SpaceX, Led by Musk, Developing Spy Satellite Network for US Intelligence, Sources Report
SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/F... SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
Exclusive: SpaceX, Led by Musk, Developing Spy Satellite Network for US Intelligence, Sources Report
SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/F... SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

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SpaceX, led by Musk, is developing a spy satellite network for US intelligence, according to a source report.

March 16, 2019 (Reuters) According to five people familiar with the initiative, SpaceX is developing a network of hundreds of spy satellites under a classified contract with a U.S. intelligence agency. This shows how national security agencies and the space corporation founded by billionaire Elon Musk are becoming more closely connected.
According to the sources, SpaceX’s Starshield business subsidiary is developing the network as part of a $1.8 billion contract with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). This intelligence organization oversees spy satellites, which was inked in 2021.

The proposals demonstrate SpaceX’s level of participation in U.S. military and intelligence endeavors and point to a larger Pentagon commitment to large-scale low-Earth orbit satellite systems intended to assist ground forces.

 

If successful, the effort would greatly improve the U.S. government and military’s capacity to identify possible targets quickly and accurately practically anywhere in the world, according to the sources.
According to the sources, the deal starts a new chapter regarding the use of Starlink satellite connectivity in the conflict in Ukraine and reflects the intelligence community’s growing confidence in a business whose owner has engaged in conflict and controversy with the Biden administration.

In a February article, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a $1.8 billion classified Starshield contract existed with an unidentified intelligence agency, but the program’s goals were not stated. The NRO is the espionage agency that Musk’s company is collaborating with, according to Reuters reporting, which for the first time reveals that the SpaceX contract is for a potent new spy system with hundreds of satellites with Earth-imaging capabilities that can operate as a swarm in low orbits.

When the new satellite network would go live and whether other companies were involved in the scheme under separate contracts were not disclosed to Reuters.
The largest satellite operator in the world, SpaceX, did not reply to many requests for information regarding the contract, its part in it, or the specifics of satellite launches. The Pentagon forwarded a request for comment to SpaceX and the NRO.

The NRO acknowledged in a statement that it is working to construct a sophisticated satellite system and that it has relationships with other government agencies, businesses, universities, and countries. However, the NRO chose not to comment on the information provided by Reuters regarding the degree of SpaceX’s involvement in the project.

“The National Reconnaissance Office is developing the most capable, diverse, and resilient space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance system the world has ever seen,” stated a spokesperson.
The sources claimed that the satellites could follow targets on the ground and relay that information to military and intelligence officials in the United States. They said, in theory, it would help intelligence and military operations by allowing the US government to swiftly obtain continuous pictures of ground events almost anywhere in the world.

According to three of the individuals, since 2020, SpaceX has launched about a dozen prototypes along with other satellites on its Falcon 9 rockets.

According to a U.S. government database of objects in orbit, Several SpaceX missions have been shown to have placed satellites, which the government and the corporation have never acknowledged. Two sources confirmed that there were Starshield network prototypes.

Since they were not allowed to discuss the U.S. government initiative, all of the sources requested to remain nameless.

The Pentagon already uses SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets to transport military payloads into orbit, making it a major customer. According to one of the individuals, Starshield’s first prototype satellite was launched in 2020 as part of a different, around $200 million contract that helped prepare SpaceX for the following $1.8 billion grant.

The proposed Starshield network is not to be confused with Starlink, SpaceX’s expanding commercial broadband constellation, which consists of over 5,500 satellites in orbit and offers businesses, governments, and consumers nearly universal internet access.

Since the secret spy satellite network is intended to provide the most comprehensive, fast, and persistent monitoring of Earthly operations, it is one of the most sought-after space capabilities by the U.S. government.

One of the sources stated, “No one can hide,” indicating the network’s extent, regarding the system’s potential.

In addition to being the creator and CEO of Tesla (TSLA.O), Musk also owns the social media company X and opens new tabs. He has sparked innovation in space but has angered some Biden administration officials due to his previous ownership of Starlink in Ukraine, where the Kyiv military used it for secure communications during the conflict with Russia. There was hostility between Musk and the US government due to his control over Starlink in a combat zone, which was not exercised by the US military.

Numerous Reuters articles have documented the impact that Musk’s industrial operations—including those at SpaceX—have had on employees and customers.

By extending spy satellite systems away from large, costly spacecraft at higher orbits, the United States and its adversaries are vying to become the dominant military force in space, and the Starshield network is a component of this struggle. Alternatively, a large-scale, low-orbiting network can offer almost continuous and faster Earth photography.

China also intends to begin constructing its own constellations of satellites, and the Pentagon has alerted the world about Russian threats posing a threat to space power that may take down entire satellite networks. Starshield is designed to withstand more strikes from advanced space powers.

According to two sources, the network will include large satellites with imaging sensors and a larger number of relay satellites that use inter-satellite lasers to transfer communications and imaging data across the network. The network is also expected to increase the U.S. government’s capacity for remote sensing significantly.

The NRO supplies the Pentagon and other intelligence organizations with secret satellite imagery and employs former CIA and U.S. Space Force members.

Three sources indicated that sensors from different manufacturers will be installed in the surveillance satellites.


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