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SpaceX building hundreds of spy satellites for US government, report says

SpaceX is “building a network of hundreds of spy satellites” for a US intelligence agency under a $1.8 billion contract signed in 2021, Reuters reported on Saturday. Reuters cited “five sources familiar with the program” in its report on SpaceX’s classified contract with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a Defense Department agency that deploys surveillance satellites and calls itself the “global leader in space-based intelligence.”
“The satellites can track targets on the ground and share that data with US intelligence and military officials, the sources said,” according to Reuters. The newly reported details are consistent with a Wall Street Journal report in February 2024 that said SpaceX had “entered into a $1.8 billion classified contract with the US government in 2021.”
Reuters wrote that it “was unable to determine when the new network of satellites would come online” but stated that about a dozen prototype satellites have been launched in the past few years. The prototypes reportedly launched “among other satellites on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.”
SpaceX, of course, has deployed thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites for its Starlink division that provides broadband service to consumer, business, and government customers. The spy satellites for the NRO also operate in low-Earth orbits, the Reuters report said.
“The plans show the extent of SpaceX’s involvement in US intelligence and military projects and illustrate a deeper Pentagon investment into vast, low-Earth orbiting satellite systems aimed at supporting ground forces,” Reuters wrote. “If successful, the sources said the program would significantly advance the ability of the US government and military to quickly spot potential targets almost anywhere on the globe.”
SpaceX’s Starshield
The network “will consist of large satellites with imaging sensors, as well as a greater number of relay satellites that pass the imaging data and other communications across the network using inter-satellite lasers,” according to Reuters sources. The SpaceX satellites will reportedly contain sensors provided by another company, but Reuters said it was unable to determine which “other companies are part of the program with their own contracts.”
The project is related to SpaceX’s Starshield, Reuters wrote. “Starshield’s first prototype satellite, launched in 2020, was part of a separate, roughly $200 million contract that helped position SpaceX for the subsequent $1.8 billion award, one of the sources said,” according to Reuters.
SpaceX’s website describes Starshield as a “secured satellite network for government entities” with more advanced encryption than Starlink. “Starshield uses additional high-assurance cryptographic capability to host classified payloads and process data securely, meeting the most demanding government requirements,” SpaceX says.
We contacted SpaceX and the NRO today and will update this article if we get any comment on the satellite contract.
US aims for most advanced space-based surveillance
The NRO provided Reuters with a statement saying the agency “is developing the most capable, diverse, and resilient space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance system the world has ever seen.” The NRO did not comment to Reuters specifically on SpaceX’s reported involvement in the satellite project.
Despite SpaceX’s lucrative ties with the US government, the Elon Musk-led company has repeatedly fought with federal agencies over various matters and had a high-profile dispute with the Pentagon over funding for Ukraine’s use of Starlink. Democratic lawmakers also recently started probing SpaceX over Russia’s reported use of Starlink in Ukraine, saying they have questions about SpaceX’s “compliance with US sanctions and export controls.”
Reuters published a followup report today detailing Chinese military and state-run media reactions to the news. “We urge US companies to not help a villain do evil… All countries worldwide should be vigilant and protect against new and even bigger security threats created by the US government,” a Chinese Communist Party military account reportedly said on the social media platform Weibo yesterday.
China is also reportedly building a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites.



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