Russia warns US against using SpaceX for spying

Russia says plans by US intelligence to use SpaceX to build spy satellites causes risks for space security.

A security guard monitors the entrance as SpaceX's next-generation Starship spacecraft atop its powerful Super Heavy rocket is prepared for a third launch from the company's Boca Chica launchpad on an uncrewed test flight, near Brownsville, Texas, U.S. March 13, 2024. REUTERS/Cheney Orr
SpaceX is building a network of hundreds of spy satellites under a classified contract with a US intelligence agency, according to reports [Cheney Orr/Reuters]

Russia has said it is aware of US intelligence efforts to use commercial satellite operators such as SpaceX and has cautioned that such moves made their satellites legitimate targets.

The Reuters news agency reported this month that SpaceX is building a network of hundreds of spy satellites under a classified contract with a US intelligence agency, demonstrating deepening ties between Elon Musk’s space company and national security agencies.

“We are aware of Washington’s efforts to attract the private sector to serve its military space ambitions,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Wednesday.

Such systems “become a legitimate target for retaliatory measures, including military ones”, Zakharova said.

The network is being built by SpaceX’s Starshield business unit under a $1.8bn contract signed in 2021 with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an intelligence agency that manages spy satellites, five sources familiar with the programme said, according to Reuters.

The vast, low-Earth orbiting satellite systems are aimed at supporting ground forces. If successful, the sources said the programme would significantly advance the ability of the US government and military to quickly spot potential targets almost anywhere on the globe.

Zakharova also addressed a Russian draft resolution in the UN General Assembly titled, “Space science and technology for promoting peace,” the Russian news outlet Sputnik reported.

Zakharova said the document is aimed at establishing an understanding at the international level about the inadmissibility of using civilian space systems to exert force on geopolitical opponents.

Last month, the White House said Russia is developing a “space-based” anti-satellite weapon that is “troubling” but poses no threat.

Moscow downplayed the US claims, describing them as a “malicious fabrication”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies