SpaceX has recently signed a contract with the Pentagon, marking its first collaboration with the US military. The agreement is a part of the new ‘Starshield’ program, described by CEO Elon Musk as a military alternative to the civilian Starlink system. Despite the company’s aim to remain a civilian network, the contract will see SpaceX leasing part of its Starlink network to the Pentagon.
Elon Musk took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to confirm the deal, stating that the Starshield project would be owned by the US government and controlled by the Department of Defense. Musk emphasized that Starlink should be a civilian network and not a participant in combat, referring to the previous use of the satellites in Ukraine during the conflict with Russia.
The contract with the Pentagon allows SpaceX to provide end-to-end services through the Starlink constellation, including user terminals, network management, and other related services. The deal has a price ceiling of $70 million and is part of the Space Force’s Proliferated Low Earth Orbit program, which aims to repurpose existing communication satellites for military use.
Musk has faced criticism for SpaceX’s decisions in Ukraine, particularly for allegedly refusing Ukraine’s requests to utilize the Starlink network for strikes against Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In response, Musk’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, revealed that Musk had developed a military version of Starlink to distance himself from the project. Isaacson mentioned Musk’s intentions behind creating Starlink, stating that he did not intend for it to potentially cause a nuclear war. Issacson further revealed that Musk agreed to sell and give total control over a certain amount of Starlink equipment to the US military.
Musk had previously cited American sanctions on Russia as the reason for not extending Starlink coverage into Crimea, claiming that the company was not allowed to provide connectivity to the region without explicit government approval. However, he also expressed his reluctance to be complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation, suggesting that his decision was not solely based on US restrictions.
With this Pentagon contract, SpaceX is now competing for approximately $1 billion in additional contracts extending until 2028. This partnership with the military solidifies SpaceX’s ties with the US government and highlights the dual-use capabilities of the Starlink network.
Overall, while Elon Musk maintains a desire for Starlink to remain a civilian network, the recent contract with the Pentagon demonstrates the company’s willingness to collaborate with the military and support national defense initiatives.