SpaceX Is Working with Northrop Grumman on Spy Satellite Project: Report

Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman is working with SpaceX on a secret spy satellite project, according to a report. Satellites are already taking high-resolution images of the Earth.

Reuters previously reported that the program is designed to expand the US government’s ability to track military and intelligence targets from low Earth orbits by providing high-resolution images. Such images are traditionally captured primarily by drones and reconnaissance aircrafts.

Northrop Grumman is supplying sensors for some of SpaceX’s satellites, people familiar with the project said. Northrop Grumman will test these satellites at its own facilities before launching them. At least 50 SpaceX satellites are expected to be delivered to Northrop Grumman facilities in the coming years for procedures including testing and sensor installation.

Last month, Reuters reported that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) awarded SpaceX a $1.8 billion contract in 2021 for the classified project. It included a planned network of hundreds of satellites. SpaceX has launched about a dozen prototypes so far and is providing test images to NRO, the sources said.

In a statement, an NRO spokesman said the agency “has always worked with a diverse group of partners to deliver the most capable, diverse, and resilient space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.” The spokesman declined to name the companies that are working on the network.

One of the challenges the new satellites must solve is providing high-resolution imagery, superior to most existing US government spy systems. In addition, the use of satellites for image acquisition reduces the risks associated with image acquisition through drones and reconnaissance aircraft.

Northrop Grumman has a long history as a defense and intelligence contractor. The company already supplies the US government with products and services, including military satellites, maneuverable spacecraft and space communications. Sources told Reuters that once the new spy satellite network is fully deployed, it will be equipped with a variety of different sensors, including optical and radar technologies. The system will also use relay satellites that can transmit images and other data over the network.

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