Russia warns US, again: SpaceX satellites used for military purposes may become targets

What just happened? Not for the first time, Russia has warned that the use of SpaceX and other commercial satellites for military purposes by the United States makes them legitimate targets. The news comes soon after a report that SpaceX is building a network of hundreds of spy satellites under contract with a US intelligence agency.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that SpaceX’s Starshield business unit was building a spy network under a $1.8 billion contract signed in 2021 with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an intelligence agency that manages spy satellites.

The aim of the program is to advance the ability of the US government to quickly spot potential targets almost anywhere on the globe.

Responding to that report, Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “we are aware of Washington’s efforts to attract the private sector to serve its military space ambitions.”

Zakharova added that the satellites could “become a legitimate target for retaliatory measures, including military ones.”

SpaceX has supplied over 42,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine and maintained them since Russia invaded, helping keep the nation’s critical infrastructure and its citizens online.

This isn’t the first time Russia has threatened Starlink satellites. During a United Nations working group meeting on reducing space threats in 2022, Konstantin Vorontsov, a member of the Russian delegation, said that the country “would like to underline an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the events in Ukraine. Namely, the United States and its allies use the elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in outer space for military purposes.” The Russian Foreign Ministry member and head of the country’s UN Office for Disarmament Affairs delegation added the warning that “quasi-civilian infrastructure” may become a legitimate target for retaliation.

At the start of last year, SpaceX stopped Ukraine from using its Starlink service to control drones, noting that the system was never meant to be weaponized.

In February, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was forced to deny claims that Starlink is being used by Russian forces in occupied territories of Ukraine, something the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Agency (GUR) claimed to have proof of. “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia,” Musk said. House Democrats are investigating SpaceX regarding the reports.

It’s not just Russia that has raised concerns with SpaceX. A paper by government-affiliated researchers published by China’s Modern Defence Technology in 2022 said the Asian nation should develop methods to destroy its satellites, which had brought hidden dangers and challenges to the country.

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