As often is the case, Elon Musk has found himself in the news again, this time as he has been vacillating while trying to decide if he wants to continue footing the bill for Starlink, which is bringing much-needed communication to Ukraine to help with the war against Russia. The use of Starlink has been absolutely vital for Ukraine’s military, as well as its people, when it comes to staying online. Starlink helped to reboot key infrastructure after the Russian attacks, and is invaluable in so many aspects of the country. It stands to reason that Russian missiles have been going after energy installations in Ukraine in order to wreak havoc with the country. Instead of relying on infrastructure, Starlink consists of thousands of satellites in low-Earth orbit and ground terminals, and therefore can bring communication to the people.
Musk, the SpaceX founder, had asked the Defense Department earlier in the month to help him fund the continuing cost of Starlink, saying that he wouldn’t be able to donate the vital Starlink terminals if there was no end in sight. “To be precise, 25,300 terminals were sent to Ukraine, but, at present, only 10,630 are paying for service,” Musk said Monday.
He explained, “SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely”. In this request, Musk also asked for almost 8,000 new terminals and service for Ukraine’s military and intelligence services.
Earlier this week, Musk said that the funding request he had made to the Pentagon was withdrawn, because he had just decided to foot the bill himself. An exclusive CNN report that SpaceX requested the help from the Pentagon, and after the CNN report revealed the request and also explained in greater detail that SpaceX is not the only responsible party for Starlink access in Ukraine, Musk tweeted on Saturday: “To hell with it…even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer money, we’ll just keep funding the Ukraine govt for free.”
Before Musk changed his mind, the Pentagon had said that it would fund the Starlink project. That funding request was for $124MMfor the remainder of 2022. It’s unclear what the final amount or terms agreed to were.
According to CNN, “The SpaceX letter to the Pentagon on September 8 said the company had paid for around 70% of the internet service of Ukraine’s terminals –which is valued at as much as $4,500 per month –but had fully funded only around 15% of the 20,000 terminals. The rest was paid for by governments like the US, UK and Poland as well as private initiatives.”
Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital, said, “Elon Musk was asking for financial support recently before he shut it down. The outcry compelled him to change course. The truth is, he started the venture during peacetime and for profit. That quickly changed into wartime. Since foreign governments have a stake in Ukraine’s future, they ought to also help sustain Starlink. It only makes sense.”
For now, what is important to the people and military of Ukraine is that they have the communication tools they need to get their country up and running.