SpaceX Starlink Satellites arrive in Ukraine; Elon Musk’s Starlink is keeping Ukrainians online when traditional Internet fails


A one-handed fistfight for the future of Ukraine was recently challenged by Elon Musk to Russian President Vladimir Putin by Elon Musk. Nonetheless, the entrepreneur’s most important contribution to Ukraine’s security has been his efforts to keep its citizens connected via the deployment of Starlink satellite Internet service.

Starlink is a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s space exploration firm, SpaceX. The service makes use of terminals that look like television dishes and are equipped with antennas. These terminals are often positioned on rooftops and are used to connect to the Internet via satellite in remote or isolated locations.

When the conflict in Ukraine erupted, the nation was confronted with the possibility of Russian cyberattacks and shelling, which had the ability to bring the Internet down, necessitating the development of a contingency plan. As a result, the country’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, sent a direct message to Musk, pleading with him to dispatch assistance. Musk responded only a few hours later, saying, “The Starlink service is currently operational in Ukraine.” “There are more terminals on the way.”

Ukraine has already received hundreds of antennas from Musk’s firms and European friends, which have proven to be “very successful,” according to Fedorov, who spoke to The Washington Post on Friday about the situation.

Over a translator, Fedorov claimed that the quality of the link was outstanding. Fedorov was speaking through a Starlink connection from an unidentified location. Hundreds of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of terminals, are being used, with fresh shipments coming every other day.

According to analysts, the deployment of Starlink as a stopgap method to keep residents and the government-linked during an invasion is a significant test for the relatively new technology and might have far-reaching ramifications for the future of warfare in the United States. The internet has evolved into a vital tool for communication, keeping up to date with news, and even powering weaponry.

It also serves as a test for Musk. The world’s wealthiest man, estimated to be worth $232 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, has made it a practice of taking to Twitter in the thick of global crises to make bombastic pledges and proclamations to the globe. Already this week, the Tesla CEO challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to a fight, followed by a promise to fight with only one hand if Putin became fearful. In addition, he informed Putin that he would be bringing a bear.

Some of his previous promises, such as the development of ventilators for coronavirus patients and attempts to rescue Thai children trapped in a cave, have not been met, and he has apologized.

Fedorov and several other analysts, on the other hand, believe he has delivered this time. Other European nations have provided Starlink equipment from their own inventories, according to Fedorov, who claims that Tesla personnel in Europe have been assembling systems to assist in providing electricity to Starlink in Ukraine.

Following a request for comment on his current and previous efforts, Musk reacted by instructing The Washington Post to send his thanks to “your puppet master Beso” and “your puppet master Besos.” (The Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.) Musk did not react to a follow-up question on his work with Starlink in Ukraine, which was directed particularly at him. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment on its activities in Ukraine.

Depending on the source, internet interruptions may be triggered by power outages or by shelling cutting fiber optic lines, according to industry analysts. In places under assault where Internet connectivity has been disrupted, citizens, as well as government officials, are making use of the Starlink technology. Starlink terminals have also been offered to assist the country’s technology enterprises in remaining connected when they are forced to move due to the conflict. Apparently, according to the Times of London, a Ukrainian battalion is utilizing Starlink to connect its drones that are striking Russian soldiers.

Starlink has developed rapidly in recent years, outpacing other satellite Internet rivals by sending more than 1,000 satellites into orbit, allowing the company to overtake some of its competitors. Purchasers may sign up online for the service for $99 a month plus $499 for the equipment, although Starlink warns that it may take up to six months for the equipment to arrive in certain situations.

It was revealed by an anonymous source acquainted with Starlink’s efforts in Ukraine that there are more than 5,000 terminals across the nation. The source requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive things in confidence.

Experts, on the other hand, believe that even a large Starlink network would not have enough power to keep a whole nation connected and working at full speed. However, in the event that Internet services are disrupted, the terminals can provide as a dependable backup. Fedorov said that he and his team are now in contact with other European politicians and corporations regarding the development of new satellite and cellular technologies that might assist in keeping Ukrainians connected in the case of widespread Internet failures.

According to data-monitoring firms, internet traffic worsened on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, and has not completely recovered since. However, following that first decrease, the connection has been relatively consistent, with the majority of outages being brief and localized, even during periods of intense Russian bombardment.

According to Doug Madory, head of Internet analysis for Kentik, which analyses worldwide data flows, “outages occur on a daily basis,” but “service returns in the majority of cases.”

Even before Fedorov reached out to Musk for assistance, SpaceX was hard at work devising a means to transport Starlink to Ukraine. According to Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer of Globalstar, the business has been working for many weeks to get governmental authority to enable its satellites to interact with Ukraine. Shotwell spoke at the California Institute of Technology this month.

According to SpaceNews, she said that “but then they tweeted.” “You have our consent to do so.”

Fedorov’s organization is aiming to provide Starlink terminals to areas where Internet connection has been restricted, according to him. Rarely the systems have been utilized to link individuals when cellular networks in the nation have been overwhelmed, as has happened in some situations.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has also received a phone call from Musk, according to Fedorov, who has exchanged a short text message with the tech mogul.

There are some reservations about the usage of the terminals, which are understandable. In the same way that all satellite communications during a conflict may be used to locate the position of the antennae, analysts believe Starlink transmissions could be used to do the same. While it is unknown if Russia would be able to exploit the signals to target attacks, Musk issued a cautionary warning on Twitter.

As he noted on Twitter, “Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system that is still operational in certain regions of Ukraine, therefore the likelihood of being attacked is high.” He went on to say that users should only use the terminal when absolutely necessary and should keep it out of the way of other people.

Experts have cautioned that the devices may be used to reveal the whereabouts of Ukrainians to Russian assailants, but Fedorov claims that this has not been a problem so far. According to the report, the devices have often been utilized in “densely inhabited locations where there would be a large number of people anyway.”

He said that Russian cyberattacks on the networks have not increased in intensity – at least not yet. In the meanwhile, “they seem to be quite active in targeting the websites of our little towns and villages,” Fedorov added. “I believe they’re simply not there yet,” says the author.

Because Starlink is still in its early stages, experts in the military and space industries believe there is a lot to learn about how and whether it is practical to employ in war zones in the coming years.

“The answer is that it has the potential to be beneficial, but there’s a lot we don’t know,” said Brian Weeden, director of programme planning for space sustainability charity Secure World Foundation, referring to the possibility of cyberattacks as well as the specific requirements for the technology.

The Russians, as well as many other countries, have developed equipment that is capable of locating, jamming, and in some cases intercepting many types of signals. The technology used by Starlink, according to John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, might be a target for similar initiatives.

It’s an issue of recognizing and balancing danger, he said. “However, I believe it’s really vital that people in Ukraine and places without access get connected.”

The Twitter discussions between Fedorov and Musk were seen by a Ukrainian engineer in Kyiv, who quickly scurried to patch them back together using a Starlink terminal he had purchased some months before. Oleg Kutkov said that he purchased a terminal only for the purpose of disassembling it and reassembling it; as an engineer, he was intrigued by how it functioned.

However, he believes that now that Starlink services are available in the nation, they may prove to be beneficial. In order to test it, he placed the Starlink antenna outside his window and switched it on. His usual Internet service was still operational at the time of writing. The vehicle was moving at a breakneck pace.

According to Kutkov, “Internet connectivity is really crucial here in Ukraine.” The information we get via social media platforms, the government, and from one another is extensive. Kutkov received so many inquiries about Starlink from other Ukrainians that he decided to create a Facebook group to answer them all. It presently has a total of 370 members.



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