This Is Why SpaceX's Connections With U.S. Intelligence Agencies Are Only Getting Deeper

By Javier Sanchez | Wednesday, 21 February 2024 12:00 PM
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Elon Musk's SpaceX has been strengthening its ties with the U.S. military and intelligence community, with plans to increase its government contracts, including a covert project known as Starshield, according to The Wall Street Journal.

SpaceX has surged ahead of the U.S. military and other commercial firms in the space launch race, drawing the attention of major U.S. military and intelligence agencies. Starshield, a testament to the deepening relationship between the commercial and government space sectors, provides government clients with satellites capable of secure communications and data gathering using various observation units, as reported by the WSJ, referencing a website made public in 2022.

The Starshield unit, primarily serving government clients, refrains from publicizing its existence, the WSJ reported. In August, it secured a $70 million Pentagon contract to deliver communication services.

The leadership team of Starshield includes Terrence O’Shaughnessy, a retired Air Force general from 2020, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke to the WSJ. A biography on a trade website identifies him as a "Senior Advisor to Elon Musk on matters regarding SpaceX" and the vice president of the Special Programs Group.

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Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO, spoke of the collaboration between the intelligence community and SpaceX at an event in May 2023, as reported by the WSJ. "When I’m never sure what I can say in a public forum, I tend to zip it. But I can say that there is very good collaboration between the intelligence community and SpaceX," Shotwell said.

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Shotwell has been instrumental in fostering relationships between SpaceX and national security agencies within the U.S. government, according to individuals familiar with the efforts.

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In 2021, SpaceX entered into a classified $1.8 billion contract with an undisclosed U.S. agency, the WSJ reported, citing company documents that suggested the contract would be a significant revenue source for Musk's company in the future.

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Another secretive contract is with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an intelligence agency responsible for collecting and analyzing satellite data for federal government clients. The specifics of the SpaceX technology utilized by the NRO remain unclear.

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"We are deepening our relationships with other government agencies, the private sector, academia and other nations," an NRO spokesperson told the WSJ.

Satellites serve U.S. national security needs by tracking missile launches, providing secure communication links, and using cameras or sensors to monitor ground events, according to the WSJ.

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The Pentagon is rethinking its approach to satellite capabilities. Citing SpaceX and Starlink — Musk's initiative to provide global broadband internet service by deploying thousands of small, expendable, and inexpensive satellites — as examples, the Pentagon aims to transition from launching a few, costly, and highly complex satellites to more distributed constellations.

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