Starshield: what is this secret SpaceX project?

SpaceX is setting up a brand new space project, which it has never talked about before: Starshield. This project is primarily for one client: the United States government.

This is a new section that did not exist on the SpaceX site not long ago. Alongside the sections dedicated to its rockets (Falcon 9, Starship, Falcon Heavy) and its services ( Starlink, space carpooling, crew transport), the American company has added a new tab: “Starshield”, which one could translate as a stellar shield.

The name is bombastic, but perhaps a little misleading. It is not a question of pushing back threats that would come from the cosmos, but of a service intended for the American government. The goal? Provide a solution for the United States to ensure that Washington has a “secure satellite network” to meet national security needs.

Starshield is a surprise because Elon Musk never spoke about it – at least not on Twitter – even if, in the past, the person concerned had indicated that one of the priority missions of SpaceX is to carry out missions of this kind. The SpaceX Twitter account has also never mentioned any program named Starshield.

Observation, secure communication, and “payloads”

The page presents Starshield as a tool tailored for military applications. Three solutions are mentioned:

  • A capacity for observing the globe, with imagery,
  • Secure state communications
  • The reception of “payloads”.

This vague vocabulary suggests that SpaceX will integrate special equipment (not specified at this stage) on its satellites.

Obviously, Starshield must be able to integrate into the Starlink satellite network, which already has several thousand devices in low Earth orbit. The site does not say if Starshield will require a modified architecture, in particular, so that the Starlink satellites can ensure imaging operations and the transport of payloads.

A liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket, which will be used for the benefit of Starshield. Source: Bill Ingalls

Given the sensitive nature of the exchanges passing through Starshield, SpaceX assures that this network, in addition to the encryption already in place with Starlink, will also integrate “additional high-security cryptographic capacity to host classified payloads and process data in complete security. , thus meeting the most stringent government requirements.“

Another faculty put forward Starshield, which already exists with Starlink: the laser link between satellites. By doing so, partner satellites with a similar capability will be able to join the Starshield network. These light-based communications are an unrecognized skill of Starlink, but one that can span hundreds and even thousands of miles.

The proximity between the government and SpaceX is not a new fact: we know that the American company regularly sends satellites on behalf of the Pentagon. We also know that his boss, Gwynne Shotwell, has said that she is not opposed to the prospect of putting space weapons into orbit if it is for the defense of the country.

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