Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Huge constellations of satellites expected to launch to orbit in the next few years are an opportunity for defense agencies to expand their communications — and transform the nature of conflict.

Why it matters: National security experts warn that China and other nations are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to beefing up their weaponized capabilities in orbit, potentially putting U.S. assets on Earth and in space in jeopardy.

  • If the government makes a deal to fly instruments onboard commercial satellites, it could effectively hide military assets in plain sight.
  • It could also make it easier to get data back to Earth more quickly and give the government a way to collect data from space without launching expensive satellites of its own.
"Instead of having all of your national security dongles hanging off of one giant satellite, you could distribute them around to a bunch of other satellites both DoD [Department of Defense] as well as commercial."
— Brian Weeden, of the Secure World Foundation, to Axios

What's happening: The Air Force has tested SpaceX’s Starlink internet service aboard aircraft, and the company holds a $28 million contract with the government agency to test new ways of using Starlink.

  • The Space Development Agency is also considering buying satellites from private companies in order to build out its own constellation.
  • Government contracts like these could help keep companies in the black as they work to prove that their business models are sustainable and court other customers.

Yes, but: The satellites expected to make up mega-constellations are small and economical, meaning it might be difficult to include hosted payloads on them at all.

  • It could also be risky to put sensitive information on commercial networks and unproven systems.
  • The U.S. government has launched instruments aboard commercial satellites before, but it didn't quite catch on due in part to the fact that agencies couldn't have full control of these satellites operated by private companies, raising questions about who controls what information and hardware.

The bottom line: Huge constellations of satellites could reframe the way the U.S. military is able to fight wars but further blur the line between government agencies and the companies they rely on.

Go deeper: Trump's Space Force gets a new, recognizable logo

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Science

3 dead and thousands evacuated as Northern California fires explode

A building at the Meadowood Napa Valley luxury resort burns after the Glass Fire moved through the area on September 28, 2020 in St. Helena, California. Photo: by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Three people have died in a wildfire in Northern California and tens of thousands were evacuated across the state, as firefighters contended with strong winds and dry conditions that saw blazes explode across the state on Monday.

Driving the news: Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini confirmed the deaths occurred as the Zogg Fire spread across 15,000 acres, forcing the evacuation of 1,200 people. More than for 5o,000 people, per AP.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 33,273,720 — Total deaths: 1,000,555 — Total recoveries: 23,056,480Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 7,147,241 — Total deaths: 205,031 — Total recoveries: 2,794,608 — Total tests: 102,342,416Map.
  3. Business: Companies are still holding back earnings guidance.
  4. Health: Trump announces plan to distribute 150 million rapid tests —The childless vaccine.
  5. Media: Fauci: Some of what Fox News reports about COVID-19 is "outlandish"
  6. States: Cuomo extends New York moratorium on evictions until 2021.
  7. World: More than 1 million people have now died from coronavirus — India the second country after U.S. to hit 6 million cases.
Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Global coronavirus death toll crosses 1 million

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The global toll of confirmed deaths from COVID-19 crossed 1 million on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

By the numbers: More than half of those deaths have come in four countries: the U.S. (204,762), Brazil (141,741), India (95,542) and Mexico (76,430). The true global death toll is likely far higher.

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