SpaceX, the aerospace venture led by Elon Musk, is reportedly engaged in a covert project with a US intelligence agency to construct a vast network of spy satellites. According to five anonymous sources familiar with the initiative, the network is being developed under a classified US$1.8 billion contract with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), responsible for managing spy satellites.

This project, undertaken by SpaceX’s Starshield business unit, signifies a deepening collaboration between the private space industry and national security agencies. The programme aims to enhance the U.S. government and military’s ability to swiftly identify potential targets across the globe, significantly advancing surveillance capabilities.

The spy satellite network, utilising hundreds of satellites equipped with Earth-imaging capabilities, is expected to operate in low Earth orbit as a coordinated swarm. This arrangement promises to provide continuous and comprehensive coverage of ground activities, offering crucial intelligence for national security operations.

Despite the magnitude of this undertaking, details remain shrouded in secrecy. SpaceX has not responded to inquiries regarding its involvement in the programme or specifics regarding satellite launches. The Pentagon has redirected requests for comment to the NRO and SpaceX.

While the NRO acknowledged its mission to develop sophisticated satellite systems and foster partnerships, it refrained from commenting on the extent of SpaceX’s involvement in the project. The spokesperson emphasised the agency’s commitment to building a robust space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance system.

The satellite network’s capabilities include ground target tracking and data sharing with U.S. intelligence and military entities. Prototypes of these satellites have reportedly been launched since 2020, with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets facilitating deployment.

This initiative underscores the Pentagon’s increasing reliance on SpaceX for space-related endeavours. The collaboration began with smaller contracts, gradually paving the way for larger-scale projects like the Starshield network.

The Starshield network represents a critical asset for the U.S. government, offering persistent, pervasive, and rapid coverage of Earth’s activities. Its deployment is a response to the evolving landscape of space competition, with rival nations like China also investing in satellite constellations.

In addition to bolstering surveillance capabilities, the network aims to enhance resilience against potential attacks from adversaries. By leveraging inter-satellite lasers and advanced imaging sensors, the Starshield network seeks to revolutionise remote-sensing capabilities.

The involvement of other companies in providing sensor technology underscores the collaborative nature of this undertaking. The NRO, comprising personnel from the U.S. Space Force and CIA, remains at the forefront of this classified initiative, poised to redefine the nation’s capabilities in space-based intelligence gathering.