Elon Musk’s SpaceX has secured a Pentagon contract for its military satellite network, Starshield. This news, first reported by Bloomberg, marks the Pentagon’s first confirmed Starshield contract with SpaceX.
A U.S. Space Force spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that the contract was awarded on September 1, with a ceiling value of $70 million. The initial commitment under this contract will see SpaceX receive $15 million by September 30—funding that’s earmarked to support 54 military “mission partners” across various Department of Defense divisions, the spokesperson explained.
Related article: ‘Starshield’ Gets SpaceX Deeper in Bed With Global Militaries
Starshield, unveiled last year, is the defense counterpart of SpaceX’s Starlink, a consumer satellite network currently consisting of 4,797 functional units, according to statistics kept by Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell. While Starlink caters to everyday consumers, Starshield is promoted by SpaceX as a tailored security solution for national defense. The system will initially focus on three areas: Earth observation, in which Starshield launches satellites with sensing payloads and delivers processed data directly to users; communications, offering global communications to government users with Starshield user equipment; and hosted payloads, wherein Starshield constructs satellite buses to support customer payload missions.
Elaborating on the new contract, the Space Force spokesperson told CNBC that the SpaceX contract “provides for Starshield end-to-end service (via the Starlink constellation), user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management and other related services.”
This latest arrangement between SpaceX and the Pentagon builds on previous collaborations. In June, SpaceX secured another Pentagon contract, the details of which remain undisclosed, to supply Starlink ground stations for Ukraine. And that’s despite SpaceX previously saying it wanted to restrict Ukraine’s military from using its terminals for combat operations against Russia.
Indeed, since launching a GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force in 2018, SpaceX has been actively involved in national security missions. After the creation of Space Force in December 2019, the company received $149 million to develop missile-tracking satellites. SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets routinely deploy military satellites for international customers and classified U.S. government payloads, with the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket sometimes chipping in to perform the heavy lifting duties. So yeah, SpaceX cozying up to, and profiting from, the U.S. military is hardly a new development.
The Pentagon’s keen interest in SpaceX’s offerings is both evident and sensible, given the company’s dominant position in the industry and the freakish reliability of its rockets. This remains true even with Musk’s concerns about Ukraine using Starlink and despite the CEO’s often unpredictable and impulsive actions. The newly awarded contract underscores Space Force’s appreciation for the capabilities of the Starlink network and the potential contributions of the commercial sector to the Department of Defense. As this partnership evolves, SpaceX is solidifying its role as a pivotal defense contractor for the United States.
Want to know more about Elon Musk’s space venture? Check out our full coverage of SpaceX’s Starship megarocket and the SpaceX Starlink internet satellite megaconstellation. And for more spaceflight in your life, follow us on X and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.