"No one can hide": Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building hundreds of spy satellites for US government

SpaceX is developing a network of spy satellites for a $1.8 billion contract with the NRO, enhancing US intelligence capabilities globally.

Livemint
Updated17 Mar 2024, 10:35 AM IST
FILE PHOTO: Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, formerly known as Twitter, attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo(REUTERS)

Elon Musk-led SpaceX is developing hundreds of spy satellites for a US intelligence agency under a secret $1.8 billion contract, Reuters reported, citing various unnamed sources. The contract, which was signed in 2021, aims to develop a powerful spy system that includes hundreds of satellites with Earth-imaging capabilities that can operate in low orbit.

Also Read | 'Woke AI like Google Gemini can even kill people,' warns Elon Musk! Here's why

The spy satellite network will be built by SpaceX's Starshield business, and the Reuters report also signals a deeper engagement with the Pentagon. The $1.8 billion contract also indicates the intelligence community's growing confidence in SpaceX, despite Musk's clashes with the Biden administration over many issues, including the use of Starlink satellites in Ukraine.

What do we know by SpaceX's spy satellites? 

The Starshield spy satellites are low-Earth orbiting satellites designed to support US ground forces. The satellites will likely have the ability to track targets on the ground and share the data with US military and intelligence officials. The Reuters report, while citing sources, noted that if this programme is successful, it could significantly improve the ability of the US government and military to locate potential targets anywhere in the world.

Commenting on the potential capabilities of the new spy satellite system, one source told Reuters: "No one can hide.

Also Read | SpaceX's mega-rocket test flight almost succeeded, yet lose spacecraft near end. What went wrong?

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets have been used to launch nearly a dozen prototypes since 2020. In addition, a US government database of objects in orbit also shows several SpaceX missions that deployed satellites that neither the company nor the US government have ever acknowledged, the report said.

The Reuters report noted that the Starshield network is part of an intensifying effort between the US and its rivals to expand spy satellite systems away from bulky, expensive spacecraft to a low-orbit network that can provide faster and near-constant imaging of the Earth.

Notably, China is also planning to launch its own satellite constellation soon, and the US Pentagon has warned in the past of the threat posed by a Russian space weapon that could potentially disable entire satellite networks.

However, Starshield is designed to be more resilient to attacks from the major space powers and is expected to greatly enhance the US government's remote sensing capabilities. According to the report, the Starshield network will consist of large satellites with imaging sensors and a number of satellite relays that will relay the imaging data and other communications across the network using inter-satellite lasers.

 

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First Published:17 Mar 2024, 10:35 AM IST
HomeCompaniesNews"No one can hide": Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building hundreds of spy satellites for US government

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