Elon Musk’s SpaceX Developing Military Version Of Starlink Satellites
The new program, unveiled on Dec. 2, will build on its launch and satellite communications technology and provide additional capabilities to provide a secured satellite network for government entities.
“Starlink is designed for consumer & commercial use, Starshield is designed for gov use, with focus on three areas: Earth Observation, Communications, Hosted Payloads,” said Sawyer Merritt, a Tesla investor, and analyst in a tweet.
The “hosted payloads,” system allows users to utilize a satellite bus, which is the body of the spacecraft, as a flexible platform.
The most likely customers of Starshield would appear to be the U.S. military and intelligence community, which have already invested heavily into SpaceX’s satellite technology, with key stakes in the Starlink system.
“While Starlink is designed for consumer and commercial use, Starshield is designed for government use,” wrote the company on its website.
“SpaceX’s ongoing work with the Department of Defense and other partners demonstrates our ability to provide in-space and on-ground capability at scale.”
The Ukrainian military relied heavily on Starlink’s constellation network of more than 3,200 communication satellites, which provides broadband internet access, but Musk attempted to terminate funding for Kyiv’s use of the Starlink system in October.
However, he later reversed course after the U.S. Department of Defense offered to negotiate to pick up the tab for the effort and partially due to online threats by Ukrainian officials, reported Defense News.
An antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region on Sept. 25, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
Musk Expands Into Military-Industrial Tech Sector
Details on Starshield’s scope and capabilities remain sparse, including a timeframe for when the system would be in orbit and the total amount invested.
SpaceX has yet to announce any tests or details of the results of its work on its military-related technology.
The company said that the project initially focuses on developing Earth observation sensors and satellites, along with a global communications constellation system, with enhanced levels of security that are more advanced than Starlink’s current data encryption system for military and government use.
“Starlink already offers unparalleled end-to-end user data encryption. Starshield uses additional high-assurance cryptographic capability to host classified payloads and process data securely, meeting the most demanding government requirements,” according to SpaceX.
SpaceX envisions Starshield as the center of an “end-to-end” package for national security.
Musk has offered to build everything from the ground antennae to the satellites, which will be launched with its own rockets, and operate the network for its government customers in space.
Starshield’s “inter-satellite laser communications” links will also be connected to its Starlink satellites.
Musk’s company will allow the system’s terminals to be linked with “partner satellites” in order to connect other companies’ government systems “into the Starshield network.”
This will allow Starshield’s system to be interoperable and be able to be integrated with military satellites used by its customers.
SpaceX Secures More Contracts With Pentagon
SpaceX has been increasingly investing more into expanding its joint-military/space programs in recent years, with Starshield representing a significant step beyond its typical commercial markets.
The U.S. Space Force announced that it had contracted SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets in 2020 to launch at least 40 percent of its National Security Space Launch missions between 2022 and 2027, reported C4ISRNET on Aug. 7.
The company was awarded $149 million that same year to build four new missile tracking satellites for the Space Development Agency, according to C4ISRNET.
Last week, SpaceX won key approval for expansion from the Federal Communications Commission as it attempts to expand its Starlink network, which Musk estimated, could bring in as much as $30 billion in revenue a year, reported CNBC.
CNBC also reported that the DOD has plans to spend heavily to work with companies like SpaceX, to launch its next-generation satellite capabilities.
Tue, 12/06/2022 – 10:25