WASHINGTON — A $70 million contract the U.S. Space Force awarded to SpaceX for Starlink internet services includes “unique terms and conditions” not included in previous commercial contracts.

A spokesperson for the Space Systems Command — the organization that oversees the Commercial Satellite Communications Office that awarded the contract — said a one-year task order was awarded to SpaceX Sept. 1 for the procurement of Starlink internet services but also lays out other unspecified requirements set by DoD.

“SpaceX is providing a best effort and global subscription for various land, maritime, stationary and mobility platforms and users,” the command said in a statement to SpaceNews.

The Starlink service provided under this agreement is known as Starshield, which is SpaceX’s brand name for its military product line. 

“The task order for Starshield services is provided by the Starlink satellite constellation but is differentiated from the commercial Starlink service based on unique Department of Defense terms and conditions that are not found in commercial service contracts,” said the spokesperson.

Best effort delivery means a network service provider does not guarantee a particular quality of service or data transfer speed, which can be affected by network traffic load or other factors.

One of 16 vendors selected

The $70 million contract is a task order under an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) procurement vehicle for proliferated low Earth orbit (PLEO) satellite services the Space Force announced in July. SpaceX is one of 16 selected vendors that will compete for up to $900 million worth of task orders over the next five years.

The SpaceX contract is the first and the only task order awarded to date under the new PLEO IDIQ, the spokesperson said.

The award of the task order was first reported last week by Bloomberg News.

 The Space Systems Command did not specify what unique terms and conditions are included in the Starshield contract. 

A U.S. military official speaking on background said it’s fair to assume that the contract has language that would prevent Elon Musk from turning the service off on a whim regardless of how U.S. military customers employ the service. DoD also likely requires enhanced cybersecurity and anti-jamming protection. 

It is significant that this is the first known contract for Starshield, rather than simply Starlink services, said industry consultant Andrew Chanin, who runs the Procure Space ETF investment fund.

The controversy over Musk’s decision to restrict Ukrainian forces’ access to Starlink in the disputed territory of Crimea appears to underlie how DoD wrote this latest contract, even though the details are largely unknown, Chanin said.

Bifurcating Starlink services

The contract gives somewhat of a glimpse into what SpaceX intends to do with its Starshield line of products, Chanin said. The company unveiled Starshield 10 months ago, listing as one of its offerings a “secure satellite network for government entities.”

“They are bifurcating the pure play commercial business and the one for highly sensitive government and military customers,” Chanin said. “This could very well be a way of telling militaries and governments that they can buy this service however they choose to use it.”

If, as many have speculated, Musk decides to spin off Starlink as a separate company, having a clearer delineation between the commercial and government businesses would help bring added value, Chanin noted. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...