SpaceX inks first Space Force deal for government-focused Starshield satellite network

Image: The Verge

SpaceX has won its first contract with the US Space Force to provide satellite communications via Starshield, Bloomberg reports. Announced last December, SpaceX describes Starshield as a “secured satellite network for government entities,” offered alongside its civilian-focused Starlink satellite internet service. Bloomberg notes that the Starshield services will be provided over SpaceX’s existing Starlink satellites.

The existence of the one-year contract was confirmed to Bloomberg by Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek, who said it was awarded on September 1st. Under the deal, SpaceX will provide “Starshield end-to-end service via the Starlink constellation, user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management and other related services.” The contract has a $70 million ceiling, with $15 million being obligated to the company by the end of this month, and is expected to support 54 mission partners across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But, responding to reports of the deal on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote that “Starshield will be owned by the US government and controlled by DoD [Department of Defence] Space Force,” leaving Starlink as a “civilian network” that’s “not a participant to combat.”

The deal joins a number of other defense contracts won by SpaceX. CNBC notes the Pentagon is already a “high-value buyer” of SpaceX’s rocket launches.

News of the contract has emerged after a period of intense scrutiny of SpaceX’s role in Ukraine, where it has provided internet connectivity to the country’s military as it attempts to fight back against Russia’s invading forces. In Walter Isaacson’s recently published biography of Musk, the author reported that last year, Musk refused to extend Starlink coverage to Russian-occupied Crimea, hampering Ukraine’s military operations.

Starlink’s role in the conflict has inadvertently concentrated a great deal of geopolitical power in the hands of Musk. “Even though Musk is not technically a diplomat or statesman, I felt it was important to treat him as such,” is how one policy official described his approach to the SpaceX founder in a recent feature in the New Yorker. In June of this year, Bloomberg reported the Pentagon had signed a contract to pay SpaceX for satellite connectivity for Ukraine’s military.

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