On September 27, 2023, it was announced by Bloomberg and CNBC that SpaceX has won a contract for the US Space Force to provide Starshield services for communication. It is the first communication satellite contract for the US Space Force specifically, while the Hawthorne-based company has been extending its participation in defense activities over the last few years, and is taking a big step forward with the new Starshield satellites.
Details and context
Details of the contract are kept secret, but it’s known that the Space Force is bringing forward a series of contracts with various communications satellite companies for a total value of $900 million. Support will be distributed until 2028, and focus on companies that possess communication satellite constellations in Low Earth Orbit, specifically at an altitude between 100 miles and 1000 miles. The program is known as “Proliferated Low Earth Orbit”, or pLEO.
SpaceX is among the 16 companies who have been selected, with Viasat being another known client, announced on September 6. Moreover, the government contracts appear to be Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts. It means that the number of satellites provided, for example, by selected companies is not fixed. While it could be raised or lowered as needed, services and supplies will be provided within 10 years.
According to an Air Force spokesperson, Ann Stefanek, SpaceX was awarded a one-year contract, of about $70M in value, on September 1. It was made public at the end of the month, and according to Stefanek $15M has already been obliged to SpaceX by September 30. These funds are awarded to bring services to a multitude of government agency partners working for the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force and Navy.
What is Starshield
Starshield will be based on the same technologies as ordinary Starlink satellites. The contract, in fact, includes not only the availability of indefinite Starshield satellites, but also terminals, and network services too.
According to SpaceX, who has been developing Starshield under its Special Projects group, the service will be leveraging the new technology of Starlink V2 satellites, such as powerful data transmission lasers.
Security of transmission will be assured by a cryptographic capable transmission, built on top of already encrypted Starlink communication. Modular design and adaptability of the service are also strong points remarked by the company. The launch capability proudly demonstrated with the tens of Starlink Missions to orbit also speaks for extremely rapid deployment.
While SpaceX will continue to control its Starlink satellite constellation and therefore Starshield, it appears that future activities brought forward by the various government agencies through the Department of Defense Space Force will be kept separate from the company, as Elon Musk remarked on X.
Starlink needs to be a civilian network, not a participant to combat.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 27, 2023
Starshield will be owned by the US government and controlled by DoD Space Force.
This is the right order of things.
As SpaceX’s satellite communication services keep growing, so do the stakes and the various possibilities for the use of Starlink. This first official Starshield contract for the Space Force is another sign of the importance SpaceX is starting to exert on the defense sector. As the world continues to evolve, so does SpaceX.