By Li Xiaoli
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched on April 21, 2022, sending another 53 Starlink internet satellites to the low-earth orbit (LEO), driving the total number of Starlink satellites to nearly 2,400.
During the Russia-Ukraine conflict, SpaceX provided high-speed internet services for Ukraine by offering it tons of satellite communication devices. In addition to supporting communication, Starlink, as experts estimated, could also interact with UAVs and, using big data and facial recognition technology, might have already played a part in Ukraine's military operations against Russia.
SpaceX has decided to increase the number of Starlink satellites from 12,000 to 42,000 – the program's unchecked expansion and the company's ambition to use it for military purposes should put the international community on high alert.
Multi-faceted penetration to multiply military advantages
While Starlink claims to be a civilian program that provides high-speed Internet services, it has a strong military background, as well evidenced by the fact that some of the launch sites are built within the Vandenberg Air Force Base and the encrypted interconnection between the satellites and Air Force fighters has been included into their technical verification tests.
As a matter of fact, Starlink has cooperated with American military many times. In 2019, SpaceX received funds from the US Air Force to test how well Starlink satellites can connect with military aircraft under encryption; in May 2020, the US Army signed an agreement with SpaceX on the use of Starlink's broadband to transmit data across military networks; in October 2020, SpaceX won a USD 150-million contract to develop military-use satellites; in March 2021, it announced its plan to work with the US Air Force to further test the Starlink Internet.
When completed, Starlink satellites can be mounted with reconnaissance, navigation and meteorological devices to further enhance the US military's combat capability in such areas as reconnaissance remote sensing, communications relay, navigation and positioning, attack and collision, and space sheltering.
Clearly, the military applications of the Starlink program will give the US military a head-start on the future battlefield and become an "accomplice" for the US to continue to dominate the space.
Intensive "net-weaving" to overhaul the Internet landscape
On March 31, the United States Air Force released a news article on its official website saying that its F-35A fighter jets had conducted successful data transmission using Startlink satellites during the week-long test, at speeds up to 160M/S, 30 times faster than traditional connections.
According to experts, an unmanned wingman fitted with a Starlink device can serve as a tactical relay platform to transmit data to fighter jets, which means an operator can command a large number of UAVs to carry out tasks at the same time.
The Starlink program is a megaproject that weaves a new net over the earth. Defying restrictions in geography and landform, it provides wireless broadband Internet access services – as good as on the ground – to targets in air, on the far sea, on high mountains, and in the desert or remote areas, with the possibility of remaking the global Internet landscape.
Some experts said if SpaceX installs a few root servers in the space, it can make Starlink the second independent global Internet, which will pose a serious challenge to all countries in defending their cyberspace sovereignty and protecting their information security.
Enclosure movement to monopolize space resources
Orbital position and frequency are rare strategic resources in space. At present, the geosynchronous orbit has almost been fully occupied and the scramble for Low-earth Orbit and Medium-earth Orbit positions has become more intense. The LEO is able to accommodate about 50,000 satellites, over 80% of which would be taken by Starlink if the program were to launch 42,000 satellites as it has planned. SpaceX is undertaking an enclosure movement in space to take a vantage position and monopolize strategic resources.
SpaceX has already grown into a space "juggernaut" controlling a whole, independent industry chain integrating satellite manufacturing, ground station construction, rocket launch and recovery, and satellite operation and services. If and when deeply meshed with unpiloted driving, IoT, cloud data and smart city, it will expand into a brand new industry and value chain, give birth to a gigantic Starlink biosphere, and monopolize the future space application market. Monopoly and hegemony are twin sisters. There is a good chance that Starlink will be taken advantage of by the hegemony-obsessed US to bring the world into another chaos or calamity.