SpaceX working with U.S. intelligence agency on massive satellite network that captures ultra-high-resolution videos of entire cities in real time
By Cassie B. // Mar 20, 2024

SpaceX is building a massive spy network of optical satellites that is capable of spying on cities in real time, recording videos and tracking people’s movements as part of a classified contract with an American intelligence agency, Reuters reported.

The network, which will involve hundreds of spy satellites, is being built by the Starshield division of SpaceX as part of a 2021 contract worth $1.8 billion with the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The contract involves powerful spy systems that can take images of Earth and swarm in low orbits. The satellites can track various targets on the ground and share data about them with military and intelligence officials. This would mean, at least in theory, that the government can quickly record activities taking place on the ground anywhere on the planet.

Reuters could not confirm when these satellites will come online and what other companies may be participating in the project. SpaceX is currently the biggest satellite operator in the world.

A dozen prototypes of the satellites have been launched in the past few years on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Although a government database of objects in orbit indicates that some SpaceX missions have deployed satellites, the government and the company have never acknowledged them. However, two anonymous sources confirmed to Reuters that they were Starshield prototypes.

This marks a significant victory for the U.S. government, which has long sought the capabilities this network will afford them. They will be able to monitor activities all over the planet at all times. One of the sources said the network’s vast reach meant that “no one can hide.”

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There have also been reports that the imagery has such a high resolution that the satellites can easily and clearly record the movements of people and vehicles, potentially even overlaying their identities to better track people’s movements. Geolocation pings on cell phones could be used to confirm identities, allowing the government to know where people are going and with whom.

A spokesperson for the NRO declined to comment on SpaceX's involvement in the program. However, it did confirm to Reuters that it was working on “the most capable, diverse and resilient space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system the world has ever seen.”

It's also important to acknowledge that the dominance of SpaceX in the satellite internet sphere is giving Elon Musk a considerable amount of power when it comes to geopolitics and war. The use of Starlink satellites has been a point of contention in the war between Russia and Ukraine, but the fact that Musk is helping the DoD and intelligence community to spy on cities in the U.S. and abroad is enabling him to make very powerful friends.

China accuses U.S. of threatening global security

Shortly after the Reuters report was published, Chinese military and state-run media accused the U.S. of posing a threat to global security with the program. The People's Liberation Army posted on social media that the program was evidence of the U.S.’s “shamelessness and double standards” at a time when America has been accusing Chinese technology companies of threatening U.S. security.

The post, which appeared on the platform Weibo, said: "We urge U.S. 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 U.S. government."

Meanwhile, an editor for the CCP-run magazine Aerospace Knowledge, Wang Yanan, said in an interview with a state-controlled newspaper: "The United States' high-profile intelligence reconnaissance of countries or regions it is concerned about will inevitably cause some hot issues to become more sensitive or even escalate.”

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