- SpaceX’s Starlink terminal donations to Ukraine have become essential in light of the Russian invasion, which has caused major destruction of phone and internet services.
- The company has been paying for terminals and services in Ukraine since spring.
- SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon asking the agency to take over Starlink funding.
SpaceX has bolstered Ukraine’s war effort with about 20,000 of its Starlink satellite-internet terminals. Now, CEO Elon Musk is saying his company cannot continue paying for the service. The Pentagon should fund any future terminals and service, Musk wrote in a September 8 letter to the Department of Defense.
🛰 Don’t miss any of our best-in-class military coverage. Join our squad with Pop Mech Pro.
On Friday, Musk tweeted that the “operation has cost SpaceX $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year.” The Hawthorne, California-based company has been providing Starlink satellite internet terminals and services since last spring. Since then, the service has proven pivotal in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, as Moscow’s targeted attacks have destroyed regular cellular phone and internet networks there. Ukraine’s military uses the satellites to stay in communication, while organizing the fight against Russian troop incursions.
More From Popular Mechanics
The company’s director of government sales reportedly wrote that SpaceX is “not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” according to CNN.
SpaceX estimates a $124 million cost for more terminals and ongoing service costs between now and the end of the year. A full year would cost around $380 million, according to the letter.
The company began providing help following a plea from Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov. He tweeted in February: “While you try to colonize Mars—Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space—Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people!”
As of October 9, Musk said that Ukraine had about 25,000 Starlink terminals. Since the country’s communications infrastructure is gone, its troops and government officials rely on the satellites for necessary connections. Civilians and non-governmental organizatons in the country also need them to get online.
“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households,” Musk tweeted on Friday.
He says the company’s Starlink donations are costing the company $20 million a month. “In addition to terminals, we have to create, launch, maintain & replenish satellites & ground stations & pay telcos for access to Internet via gateways,” he said. “We’ve also had to defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder.”
In April, SpaceX provided 3,670 terminals, according to The Washington Post. The company has reportedly taken care of about 70 percent of the Starlink internet connectivity price.
CNN found that SpaceX has not wholly paid for Ukraine’s Starlink terminals. Close to 85 percent of them were at least partially paid for by American, Polish, and British governments, as well as other non-governmental organizations. The CNN report lists Poland funding almost 9,000 terminals. The U.S. covered the cost for 1,700.
Lately, Ukraine has experienced “catastrophic” internet outages. The military is finding it difficult to communicate during a recent counteroffensive against Russia, per The Financial Times.
Before joining Popular Mechanics, Manasee Wagh worked as a newspaper reporter, a science journalist, a tech writer, and a computer engineer. She’s always looking for ways to combine the three greatest joys in her life: science, travel, and food.