Starshield to Leverage Starlink Internet Constellation to Develop New Products for Military Market
WASHINGTON — SpaceX in December. A new business unit called Starshield, which targets U.S. national security government agencies, was disclosed on the 2nd.
The SpaceX unit intends to use the Starlink internet constellation in low Earth orbit to develop products and services — including secure communications, remote sensing and space surveillance payloads — that are in growing demand by U.S. defense and intelligence organizations.
“While Starlink is designed for consumer and commercial use, Starshield is designed for government use, with an initial focus on three areas: Earth observation, communications, and hosting payloads,” the company said on its website.
The Starshield website is heavy on marketing and light on details, but conveys SpaceX’s vision to disrupt the national security satellite space, just as it has done in launch, commercial broadband and civilian space.
“SpaceX’s continued collaboration with the Department of Defense and other partners demonstrates our ability to deliver large-scale space and ground capabilities,” the company said.
The statements suggest that as SpaceX expands its presence in the national security launch and satellite broadband markets, it decides it needs to offer more specialized products to win big contracts. Starshield will provide an “end-to-end system,” that is, a complete service from the launch vehicle to the satellite and user terminal.
“It seems like they’ve finally figured out that commercializing everything and requiring national security space customers to use it doesn’t always work, so they’re going to offer a national security-focused alternative based on Starlink technology and production lines,” an industry analyst said. told SpaceNews.
Some of the products and services Starshield touts include satellites with sensing payloads that can deliver processed data directly to users, cyber-secure global communications with Starshield user equipment, and customization “to support the most demanding customer payload missions.” satellite bus.
Starshield’s communications services offering will draw on the company’s experience in Ukraine, where Starlink demonstrated its ability to operate in theater and proved more resilient than the U.S. military expected from commercial systems. Because of the system’s ability to operate in harsh electronic environments, the Air Force has purchased Starlink services to support troops in Europe and Africa.
Starshield is also using SpaceX to participate in the U.S. Space Force’s Space Development Agency’s missile tracking and missile detection constellation, working with Leidos on four classified infrared sensor satellites scheduled for launch by the end of this year.
SpaceX will provide hosting “classified payloads and securely process data to meet the most demanding government requirements,” the company said.
Starshield satellites will be equipped with laser terminals, allowing them to interoperate with military satellites. Interoperability is a key requirement if the Department of Defense wants to use commercial LEO satellite capacity to transmit data collected by remote sensing systems. DoD officials have warned that the current Starlink network, because of its highly proprietary technology, cannot be integrated into the hybrid architecture the DoD hopes to build.
SpaceX also promised “rapid deployment and development” capabilities, a phrase that resonated with the U.S. Department of Defense’s space acquisition agencies, which for years have been frustrated by slow and high costs of satellite acquisitions.
Some of the more advanced features advertised by Starshield may not be available until SpaceX deploys its second-generation Starlink satellites. These will be larger than the first-generation version and designed with the performance characteristics needed to host national security payloads and provide a higher level of encryption than the commercial Starlink service.
To date, SpaceX has launched approximately 3,500 first-generation Starlink satellites and recently received a permit to deploy a Gen2 spacecraft.