SpaceX has been providing satellite internet to regular folks under the Starlink brand for several years, but governments have specific needs that aren’t addressed by consumer solutions. So, SpaceX is announcing Starshield, a service based on the same technology as Starlink, with added encryption and features for national security applications. SpaceX says Starshield will offer communication, hosted payloads, and Earth observations to government customers.
Naturally, a public-facing web page for a secure government communication product doesn’t have much in the way of detail. SpaceX does list several ways it can provide Starshield functionality to interested parties, though. The current Starlink service already provides end-to-end user data encryption, but the national security version will feature “additional high-assurance cryptographic capability” for secure processing and delivery of classified data. Starshield can also support “satellites with sensing payloads,” which we take to mean “spy satellites.” SpaceX says it will even design custom payloads for government customers.
The Falcon 9 launch platform will also be a boon to Starshield. SpaceX calls attention to its ongoing partnerships with the US Department of Defense as evidence of its national security chops. The Falcon 9 is already certified to carry classified payloads for the US government. The company says it can design Starshield systems from the ground up, supporting whatever features the customer wants. For example, Starshield supports integrating existing government satellites into the network via its inter-satellite laser communication system.
With the work SpaceX already does for the DoD, it’s probably expecting the US government to take advantage of Starshield. However, it could also offer Starshield to other nations. Although, most of its technology is covered under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a US regulatory system that restricts the export of defense and military-related technology. Thus, a US company like SpaceX would be unable to offer Starshield to countries with which the US has an adversarial relationship, like Russia and China.
It’s unclear if any Starshield features are going to require Starlink v2 satellites, as many of SpaceX’s other promised features do lately. If so, government customers are going to have to wait a bit. Although Starlink has gotten FCC approval to begin launching up to 7,500 next-gen satellites, it needs the in-development Starship rocket to get these larger communication satellites into orbit. The landing page does appear to feature the more compact v1 Starlink, so at least some Starshield promises should be supported by existing hardware.