Elon Musk Doubles Down on Military with Starlink Spinoff 'Starshield' for National Security

The new Starlink system wants to watch Earth, transfer data, and provide communications for world governments.
SOPA Images / Contributor

Elon Musk and SpaceX are launching a military-branded version of Starlink called Starshield.

According to its newly launched website, Starshield will be the military and government version of Starlink, a satellite based internet service. It will first focus on three areas: Earth observation, communications, and hosted payloads. So it will be a spy satellite, a communication platform, and will be customizable for the individual customer. The satellite bus is part of its main body and can be outfitted with different sensors depending on the user’s needs.

The website is light on details, but SpaceX—which Starlink is part of—has been one of Musk’s more successful ventures. The satellite communication network is already popular with the U.S. military and has become instrumental to Ukraine’s success defending itself from Russia. 

“I think what we're seeing with Elon Musk and the Starlink capabilities…is really kind of showing us what a mega constellation or proliferated architecture can provide. In terms of redundancy and capability,” Space Command head General James H. Dickinson told Congress in March.

The launch of Starshield is public affirmation that the military and governments are SpaceX’s biggest customers, with even the consumer-focused Starlink service—initially pitched as connecting under-serviced rural areas, for example—now falling under the umbrella of warfighting. The Pentagon footed the bill for many of the Starlink terminals in Ukraine and has already made extensive use of the satellite network and SpaceX rockets. NASA is one of SpaceX’s biggest partners and the company first launched systems into space for the Air Force in 2018. In June, it launched a satellite for the German government.

“SpaceX's ongoing work with the Department of Defense and other partners demonstrates our ability to provide in-space and on-ground capability at scale,” it said on its website. The launch of Starshield followed the December 1 announcement that the Federal Communications Commission authorized SpaceX to put 7,500 more satellites, what it called a “constellation” into the air. In the near future, Earth’s orbit will be full of Musk branded satellites.