SpaceX unveils Starshield, a military version of Starlink

With this new device, SpaceX intends to join the very closed circle of American defense service providers.

Starlink will soon no longer be the only SpaceX-branded satellite; Elon Musk’s shape will soon celebrate the arrival of a new model called Starshield. Unlike the Starlink web satellite, which is primarily designed for the general public and businesses, this one will be aimed at government agencies, especially those working on national security issues.

Starshield Leverages SpaceX’s Stalink Technology and Launch Capability to Support National Security Efforts”, we can read on a new page of the brand’s website. Initially, it will focus on three activities in particular.

Observation, communications and payload

The first is Earth observation. Therefore, it can be used to monitor the US mainland and potentially other regions where Uncle Sam has strategic interests.

So, SpaceX also indicates that this Starshield will be built based on a modular architecture. Therefore, it will be able to carry a wide variety of different loads. This means that customers will be able to choose to integrate different instruments to meet specific needs in terms of intelligence, counterintelligence…

Your third favorite activity will be communication. One can imagine that this will allow the government agencies involved to establish compartmentalized and ultra-secure communication channels.

These satellites are designed to transmit extremely confidential information, likely related to national security. Compared to the Starlinks we know today, these Starshields will feature “skills additional encryption and high reliability.“This will allow them to board highly classified cargo. They will also be able to use the data in complete safety. Fundamental point for any government agency.

Finally, SpaceX also specifies that the laser communication system that already equips current Starlinks can now be integrated with third-party satellites. This will allow them to communicate directly with the Starshield fleet.

SpaceX continues to approach the government

As it stands, that’s all Elon Musk’s company has revealed. We will certainly have a little more information in the coming months; but don’t expect an exhaustive presentation. The nitty-gritty technical details are likely to be reserved for the relevant government agencies. Indeed, the technical characteristics of the devices used by government agencies, especially in the field of intelligence, are data eminently strategic. They must not, therefore, fall into the wrong hands; operators will therefore not run the risk of over-communicating at this point.

It remains to be seen when, how and especially where these satellites will be deployed. The main unknown concerns the identity of the clients; SpaceX does not explicitly state that Starshield will be reserved for the US government. Some of Uncle Sam’s allies in the Old Continent can also benefit. But there’s no way to know for sure right now.

While it is very difficult to have accurate information on this matter, it will also be interesting to see how US rivals will take this news. One thinks in particular of China, which already sees the development of the Starlink constellation with a very bad eye; Recently, several research institutes have come up with plans that suggest that Beijing could destroy Starlinks in the event of a threat to national security (see our article).

The story is almost the same in Russia. Last October, the Kremlin explicitly stated that it considered “private satellites legitimate targets of retaliation” (see our article). This bulge was primarily about the Starlinks, which continue to play a key role in the war in Ukraine; but one can imagine that it would be even more valid for a private vehicle specially designed for intelligence.

There is also one last element to take into account, and no less important. Starshield could play a matchmaking role that could further strengthen Starlink’s ties with the US government. The company already collaborates regularly with NASA, including for covert defense missions; but with this new satellite, it can now become a privileged partner of Defence, with all that that implies in political terms. And knowing Musk’s temperament, we imagine such a collaboration could spark…

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