Starshield: new details of SpaceX and U.S. military's secret constellation revealed

Image of a Starshield satellite from space.

SpaceX's Starlink constellation continues to make headlines constantly for its launches, its entry into new markets or its light pollution. But the military Starshield remains shrouded in a great cloud of mysticism, as always around military programs. However, new information has recently shed light on some intriguing questions that have been kept under wraps. The answers, on the other hand, could be a paradigm shift in how war is fought from space.

Starlink satellites ready for launch
Image prior to a launch of Starlink satellites with them not yet fully inserted into the Falcon 9 cowl. Source: SpaceX

What is Starshield

It is not a constellation like Starlinkin fact, Starshield is only one trade name for a basically phantom company. Not because it was a cover for illegalities, but because it just like a ghost, knowing that it exists is not enough to unmask it.. The name Starshield is a huge shell that opaque your activitiesall military, to the civilian population. Evidently, this happens under the cover of another large ultra-secret organization, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The latter is so secret that, despite its founding in 1960, it was not discovered to the general public until 1995. However, it is in charge of the operation, maintenance and development of U.S. spy satellites. And we are not talking about a minor matter, the largest (known) project the Agency has ever embarked on cost more than 20 billion dollars to the public purse. An expense similar to the cost of developing NASA's gigantic SLS rocket, which will make it possible to return to the Moon.

But the result was a disaster and to be defenestrated the work of so much money and years, two mirrors that were to be for the new generation of optical surveillance satellites. ended up at NASA.

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Secrets have cracks, although few

Due to its secret nature, the NRO does not usually disclose absolutely nothing.. In fact, most of the information known about its programs comes from leaks. These can be controlled as in the case of the case we are dealing with today of Starshieldor they can be not foreseen as happened in 2014 with Edward Snowden. There are also less dramatic leaks, but which reveal a lot of information as happened with the image posted on social networks by Donald Trump while he was president.

This image through open access information and private investigations revealed a lot of sensitive information of the KH-11 satellites. For example, it confirmed its ability to take images up to a resolution of 7 centimeters per pixel. It also uncovered the function of the theoretically confidential USA-224 satellite.

Rendered image of a Starshield satellite provided by SpaceX.

The 1.8 billion contract Starshield finances

The information supporting the existence of a contract for this amount are two articles, by two important media. First, the Wall Street Journal mentioned its existence, and later Reuters reaffirmed the same by adding its function.

Theoretically, tracking an object on the ground from space is possible. To have the ability to do so and that this is also useful on a practical level in the military sense is incredibly difficult.

First you must miniaturizing technologyper se, which is per se complex. In addition, its energy requirements must be moderateIf you are using a solar panel, you only have a couple of solar panels to power it. However, it is true that in recent years there has been a remarkable advance in synthetic aperture radars. In fact, many private companies have found in them a way to do business from space. But to all this is added a new complication, send the information.

In short, a nightmare for the U.S. Space Force (USSF) as well as the NRO. However, Starshield would have been their opportunity to achieve this systems integration. Its optical and radio frequency communications between all the satellites of the military network and the civilian Starlink network, would make it possible to send this information in real time or almost up to a command center in the interior of the country or to any outpost with a link terminal. Even to airplanes, ships and probably weapons, supposedly, the army of Ukraine would have already integrated weapons with the Starlink network until it was discovered by Elon Musk.

Underwater drone starlink antenna
Ukrainian Navy submarine drone with a Starlink antenna used for its control. These devices have been used for various attacks against Russian Navy surface ships. Source: Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)

The ability to integrate loads at Starshieldas advertised by the company's websiteis very valuable for the U.S. government. If true that these orbiters now allow real-time tracking of ground targets such as cars, not to mention ships or trucks, is a revolution. You can't shoot at what you can't see, but you can shoot the other way around. Currently weapons are not limited by their range of action but by the ability to find a target at such distances. Y there is no way to hide from the eyes that see through the clouds from space.. This strategic advantage would more than offset the cost of the program. Even so, in military and space terms, it is not significantly large. But it would be an important source of revenue for SpaceX's plans, as well as helping the deployment of civilian Starlink satellites.

Martin Morala Andres

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