Elon Musk’s SpaceX developing $1.8 billion spy satellite network for the US, reports



A contract between SpaceX and the U.S. is worth $1.8 billion, Reuters reported.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Takeaways
  • The National Reconnaissance Office agreed to a contract with SpaceX’s Starshield program in 2021 to develop hundreds of spy satellites for the agency, Reuters reported Saturday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the program.
  • The satellites will have Earth-imaging capabilities and will be able to operate as a swarm in low orbit, additionally enabling the U.S. to track targets on the ground and share data with U.S. intelligence and military officials, the sources said.
  • About a dozen prototypes of the satellites have been launched since 2020, according to some of the sources.
  • The NRO confirmed to Reuters the agency was developing a satellite system in partnership with other government agencies, companies, research institutions and other nations, though it would not confirm SpaceX’s involvement.
  • Neither the NRO nor SpaceX immediately responded to requests for comment.
What We Don’t Know

It’s unknown how many satellites SpaceX is developing for the RCO and what other companies are included in the Starshield program.

Key Background

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that SpaceX had agreed to a contract with a U.S. intelligence agency in 2021, though details of the deal were not yet known. Company documents suggested SpaceX was developing a satellite program named Starshield, which would complement national security efforts. The company’s website says Starshield is being developed for “government use,” with a focus on “Earth observation,” global communications and “customer payload missions.” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said last year there was a “very good collaboration” between the company and the “intelligence community.” The Defense Department has previously used SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets to launch military payloads into space, according to Reuters.


SpaceX is under investigation over Russia’s alleged use of the company’s Starlink internet terminals in its war with Ukraine, a pair of House Democrats announced earlier this month. Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Robert Garcia, D-Calif., wrote a letter to the company indicating concern it did not implement “appropriate guardrails and policies” preventing Russia from using Starlink’s internet service. Raskin and Garcia said the probe would involve the Pentagon and other government agencies. SpaceX and Musk have denied claims SpaceX was selling Starlink terminals to Russia, suggesting reports claiming otherwise were “categorically false.” The probe follows claims from Ukraine’s intelligence agency, which cited radio intercepts of conversations between Russian forces in eastern Ukraine that suggested Starlink terminals were installed to establish internet access.

Forbes Valuation

Musk is the third-richest person in the world with a net worth of $188.5 billion, according to our latest estimates.

This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.

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