Elon Musk unveils SpaceX’ new ‘Starshield’ programme to thwart Russia

Elon Musk activates SpaceX Starlink service over Ukraine

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SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, has unveiled a new satellite project that could be used to thwart Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company’s new Starshield programme will be used in the national security sector and will use the space firm’s massive Starlink satellite technology. Starlink is Mr Musk’s satellite constellation service, which over the past year, has played a critical role in Kyiv’s defence by granting them internet access. These satellites have been deployed in settings from governmental buildings, hospitals and schools — to help to control drones used to combat the invading Russian forces.

On their new webpage, SpaceX said: “Starshield leverages SpaceX’s Starlink technology and launch capability to support national security efforts.”

They added that while Starlink is designed for consumer and commercial use, Starshield is designed for government use, with an initial focus on three areas.

These areas include Earth Observation, where Starshield will launch satellites with sensing payloads and delivers processed data directly to the user.

They added that the project will also provide “assured global communications to government users” with Starshield user equipment, and will build satellite buses to “support the most demanding customer payload missions.”

According to SpaceX, Starshield will offer a higher level of security than Starlink, which currently gives its users end-to-end user data encryption. 

They said that the project will feature “additional high-assurance cryptographic capability to host classified payloads and process data securely, meeting the most demanding government requirements.”

Satellites launched as part of Starshied will be capable of integrating a wide variety of payloads, “offering unique versatility to users”, and will be able to “meet diverse mission requirements.

They noted that Starlink’s inter-satellite laser communications terminal, which is the only communications laser operating at scale in orbit today, can be integrated onto partner satellites to enable incorporation into the Starshield network.

SpaceX added that with “the proven ability to iterate rapidly”, their “unique full-stack approach in developing end-to-end systems, from launch vehicles to user terminals, enables the deployment of capabilities at scale with unprecedented speed.”

Like Starlink, Starshield will be working in low Earth orbit, which provides them “inherent resiliency and constant connectivity to on-orbit assets”. Meanwhile, the company’s rapid launch capabilities will offer government agencies “expedient and economical access to space.”

Their website also says: “SpaceX’s ongoing work with the Department of Defense and other partners demonstrates our ability to provide in-space and on-ground capability at scale.”

Deployed by the US National Security agencies, and using Starlink’s satellite technology, the Starshield programme could play a fresh role in supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. 

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Elon Musk’s support of Ukraine has prompted fury from the Kremlin, with senior foreign ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov warning that such commercial space systems could risk becoming legitimate military targets if they continue to work with Ukraine. 

Speaking at a meeting of the UN’s committee on disarmament and international security, Mr Vorontsov said: “We would like to specifically stress an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the latest developments in Ukraine.

“Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure elements in outer space for military purposes.

“Apparently, these States do not realise that such actions in fact constitute indirect participation in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike.

“Western actions needlessly put at risk the sustainability of peaceful space activities, as well as numerous social and economic processes on Earth that affect the well-being of people, first of all in developing countries.”

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