Super Cities №44 — Elon Musk, Spy Satellites, and Chinese Markets

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

SpaceX lost a highly classified spy satellite

A highly classified U.S. government satellite appears to have been totally lost after being taken into space by a recent launch from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, according to a new report.
Dow Jones reported Monday evening that lawmakers had been briefed about the apparent destruction of the secretive payload — code-named Zuma — citing industry and government officials


This article describes the reliability-and-cost competition among American aerospace companies, but when I first read it, I immediately thought about China.

It’s now clear that, as SpaceX CEO, Musk is actively working very closely (in this case, as a vendor) with the most secretive American agencies (As an American, I appreciate this and most public-private collaboration.).

But Musk also leads a car company, Tesla, that is trying to establish itself in the vast and growing Chinese market.

If SpaceX Musk is willing to collaborate closely with American spy agencies, is Tesla Musk ready to cooperate with those same agencies?

This theory may sound conspiratorial, but software-enabled vehicles — the kind Tesla has pioneered — are fertile ground for hacking and, presumably, spying. Driver and passenger mobility patterns generate a lot of useful data.

Since China’s economic model is state-run capitalism, its government — the same one responsible for its country’s intelligence — must approve and monitor the activity of foreign corporations.

Ask yourself this question: If you were a top Chinese decision-maker, would you want Tesla — whose CEO actively works with American intelligence — to establish itself as a central player in your emerging technology-powered mobility market?

In a rapidly changing, technology-driven world, the lines between good and bad, and public and private, are blurring. I sense that, in this new operating environment, organizations will act cautiously. As a result, some opportunities will be lost — but real or perceived risks may be mitigated.

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