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NewsSpaceX and Northrop Grumman working on a new US spy satellite system

SpaceX and Northrop Grumman working on a new US spy satellite system

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Aerospace and defense firm Northrop Grumman is collaborating with SpaceX, the space enterprise led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, on a confidential spy satellite initiative that is currently capturing high-resolution images of Earth, according to sources familiar with the program.

This project aims to bolster the U.S. government’s capacity to monitor military and intelligence targets from low-Earth orbits, offering detailed imagery typically obtained by drones and reconnaissance aircraft.

The involvement of Northrop Grumman, previously undisclosed, reflects governmental efforts to diversify contractor involvement in sensitive intelligence programs, minimizing reliance on a single entity controlled by one individual.

According to insiders, Northrop Grumman is contributing sensors for certain SpaceX satellites, which will undergo testing at Northrop Grumman facilities before deployment. Approximately 50 SpaceX satellites are expected to undergo procedures, including testing and sensor installation, at Northrop Grumman facilities in the coming years.

Sources indicate that SpaceX has launched roughly a dozen prototypes to date and is already delivering test imagery to the NRO, the intelligence agency responsible for U.S. spy satellite development.

The imaging capabilities of the network are engineered to surpass the resolution of existing U.S. government surveillance systems significantly. Additionally, the network aims to address a pressing concern: the substantial reliance on drones and reconnaissance aircraft to gather imagery in foreign airspace, which poses inherent risks, particularly in conflict zones. By shifting image-collection to Earth’s orbit, U.S. officials seek to mitigate these risks.

For SpaceX, renowned for its swift launches of reusable rockets and commercial satellite ventures, this project marks its inaugural venture into intelligence surveillance services, a realm traditionally dominated by government agencies and established aerospace contractors.

Written by Alius Noreika

Launch of a rocket carrying Starlink satellites. Image credit: SpaceX via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 license

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