The Department of Defense (DOD/Pentagon) approached SpaceX about taking over Starship for sensitive and dangerous missions. The Pentagon seeks a government-owned, government-operated asset for critical missions.
SpaceX’s senior adviser, Gary Henry, briefly discussed the DOD’s request during the Space Mobility Conference on January 30, 2024. Henry shared that SpaceX is exploring its options in responding to the Pentagon’s request, reported the Aviation Week Network.
SpaceX and the United States military already work closely with each other. In 2020, SpaceX won a $149 million contract to build satellites to track missile launches for the DOD. SpaceX also has a contract to develop the Department of the Air Force’s Rocket Cargo mission.
The U.S. military has tested SpaceX’s Starlink internet service in the Arctic for 9 months. In September 2023, Starlink’s Starshield internet service—built to support national security—won a contract with the U.S. Space Force.
Henry stated that the DOD’s request to take over Starship for specific missions differs from its past deals with SpaceX.
“We have had conversations … and it really came down to specific missions, where it’s a very specific and sometimes elevated risk or maybe a dangerous use case for the DOD where they’re asking themselves: Do we need to own it as a particular asset … SpaceX, can you accommodate that?” Henry stated.
The Pentagon’s request would put Starship in its control for specific missions. Once a mission is complete, the DOD will return Starship to SpaceX.
“If we can buy the commercial service, that’s what we’re going to do, but there might be some use cases where there needs to be a government-owned, government-operated [vehicle], and that transfer can happen on the fly,” said Col. Eric Felt, the Director of Space Architecture for the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition.