December 18, 2019 •Evelyn J. Arevalo
Image Source: U.S Northern Command Twitter
U.S. Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, toured SpaceX facilities in Hawthorne, California on December 16th. He watched a Falcon 9 rocket launch the JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 communications satellite into geostationary orbit.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/dPuCfa89Sc— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 17, 2019
During the launch day, he also met SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and the President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, they talked about homeland defense and possible future partnerships with the industry. The exact things they conversed about have not been released yet.
The United States' North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), is responsible for tracking and intercepting airborne targets. SpaceX was awarded a $28 million contract from the Pentagon to test and asses their Starlink internet satellites by connecting it to military platforms. The U.S. Air Force has been testing SpaceX Starlink internet communications on military planes.
Gen. O'Shaughnessy, CDR @NORADCommand & @USNorthernCmd, visited @SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA, Dec. 16. He toured facilities, watched a satellite launch and met with SpaceX leaders, including @ElonMusk, about our #HomelandDefense mission & possible future #partnerships with industry. pic.twitter.com/O7NOU8dZvs— U.S. Northern Command (@USNorthernCmd) December 17, 2019
In October, at the International Aeronautical Congress, SpaceX President spoke of the partnership with the U.S. military. She mentioned Starlink is currently being tested on aircraft and that contract also includes testing communications between other satellites in orbit. "We are delivering high bandwidth into the cockpit of Air Force planes [...] Right now we're just testing the capability and figuring out how to make it work." Shotwell said.
Regarding the collaboration between SpaceX and the U.S Air Force, the Air Force General O’Shaughnessy said in a Space and Missile Defense Symposium that took place in August, that SpaceX just “completely changed our ability” to sense threats against America that they could use Starlink satellites in space to help them detect threats. "Holy smokes. Talk about being able to move the ball!" General O’Shaughnessy said, about the first deployment of 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit, that happened in May.
“The best way to kill a missile is to kill it before it ever gets shot.”
Stating that the Starlink satellites in space could help them detect threats to defend the country against new weapons such as "hypersonic" missiles. "The space sensing layer is absolutely key," he added. “I don’t know how you can do it without the space sensing layer… taking advantage of what (low-Earth orbit) gives you."