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SpaceX launches first satellites for new US spy constellation

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SpaceX launches first satellites for new US spy constellation

As part of a new U.S. intelligence network aimed at greatly enhancing the nation's space-based monitoring capabilities, SpaceX launched its first batch of operational spy satellites on Wednesday. This was the first of several more planned for this year.

The surveillance network was made public earlier this year when two Reuters stories disclosed that SpaceX is constructing hundreds of satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. intelligence agency, for a massive system in orbit that will enable it to quickly identify ground targets practically anywhere in the globe.

At 4 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket took out from the Southern Californian Vandenberg Space Force Base, launching what the NRO described as the "first launch of the NRO's proliferated systems featuring responsive collection and rapid data delivery."

Without specifying how many satellites would be deployed, the agency stated, "About six launches supporting NRO's proliferated architecture are planned for 2024, with additional launches expected through 2028." In order to support operations on Earth, militaries and intelligence services worldwide have come to rely more and more on satellites in Earth's orbit. This trend has been pushed in part by declining launch costs and changing risks to conventional ground-based and aerial data collection techniques.

The level to which Elon Musk's SpaceX has become the go-to company for the U.S. government for some of its most critical missions is also evident from the NRO satellite network. With the help of its Starlink network, a for-profit network of thousands of broadband internet satellites, the corporation has taken the lead in the US rocket launch market and grown to become the largest satellite operator globally.