Launch provider SpaceX has established a new national security business called Starshield to support one of its largest customers: the U.S. military.
The new segment will provide national security launches, hosted payloads and Earth observation satellites — as well as create a formal distinction between the company’s national security business and its commercial offerings.
“While Starlink is designed for consumer and commercial use, Starshield is designed for government use,” the company explained on its website.
The new vertical follows a September tweet from founder Elon Musk insisting that “Starlink is meant for peaceful use only.” However, Starlink has already established itself as a battlefield capability.
The U.S. military has conducted extensive testing with Starlink in recent years, and Ukraine’s military has relied on the space-based network during the Russian invasion that began earlier this year. Those efforts will now fall under Starshield.
While Starlink encrypts user data, Starshield will also offer “high-assurance cryptographic capability” to meet military requirements, according to its website.
Details on Starshield are limited, as the company has not formally announced the segment. The vertical appeared as a new section of the company’s website late last week.
A key partnership
SpaceX is a key partner of the U.S. military, providing Starlink connectivity, launch services and satellites.
The company provides heavy-lift launches for the military under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program, having won a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020. The Space Development Agency (SDA) also awarded SpaceX a $150 million launch contract that same year.
The SDA, which is building its own on-orbit mesh network made up of hundreds of satellites, in 2020 issued the company a $149 million contract to build four missile-tracking satellites. The agency has also been keen on connecting Starlink to its own network, although the current optical inter-satellite links SpaceX uses cannot pair with the agency’s planned satellites.
The SDA is looking into using translator satellites to connect with commercial constellations like Starlink and Amazon’s (NYSE: AMZN) Kuiper constellation, and SpaceX noted on its Starshield website that government satellites can link to Starlink by installing SpaceX terminals.
SpaceX is also one of 10 companies working with U.S. Space Command’s Commercial Integration Cell, which enables commercial operators to provide direct feedback to the U.S. military.
Other space companies focusing on national security
Other satellite manufacturers and operators are improving their national security business segments.
Aerospace company Boeing (NYSE: BA) last month announced a reorganization of its Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) business, consolidating its eight divisions into four: Vertical Lift; Mobility, Surveillance & Bombers; Air Dominance; and Space, Intelligence and Weapon Systems. The latter division, which will be led by former Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) military space systems head Kay Spears, will be the home of the company’s space exploration, launch and satellite programs, Phantom Works Space, and Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems, a small satellite manufacturer. The reorganization is intended to make BDS profitable again after the segment reported third-quarter losses of $2.8 billion.
“These changes will help accelerate operational discipline and program quality and performance while stabilizing our development and production programs. These are necessary steps to put BDS on the path to stronger, profitable growth,” BDS CEO Ted Colbert said in a statement.
Launch provider Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: RKLB) also announced this month that it is establishing a subsidiary focused on the military and intelligence community: Rocket Lab National Security (RLNS). The new business will oversee the company’s ongoing efforts to launch payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and supply technology to the U.S. Space Force.