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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

Scoop: CIA director Gina Haspel almost resigned over plan to install Kash Patel as deputy

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel almost resigned in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelations stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

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