SpaceX, the space exploration company founded by Elon Musk, has secured its first contract for Starshield, the defense-focused version of its Starlink satellite internet service. The contract, awarded by the U.S. Space Force, has a maximum value of $70 million and will support over 50 mission partners across all branches of the U.S. military. It includes providing end-to-end service via the Starlink constellation, user terminals, network management, and other related services. The contract marks an important step for SpaceX as it expands into the defense sector and strengthens its ties with the Pentagon.
The significance of satellite-based communication systems, particularly Starlink, was highlighted during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. SpaceX activated the service in Ukraine and sent Starlink terminals to civilians and the Ukrainian military. However, the role of Starlink in Ukrainian defense was controversial, with Elon Musk initially supporting its use but later refusing to activate the service before a planned attack on Russia’s navy. The launch of Starshield aims to provide clarity on commercial service use in military operations.
Elon Musk emphasized the distinction between Starlink and Starshield, stating that Starlink should be a civilian network, while Starshield will be owned by the U.S. government and controlled by the DoD Space Force. The U.S. Space Force has a keen interest in enhancing its satellite internet capabilities, and Starlink’s “proliferated” architecture, which includes numerous satellites in low Earth orbit, makes it an attractive option. The extensive satellite network offers increased resilience against potential attacks from adversaries.