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The SpaceX factor: How Musk’s Starlink brings internet to Ukraine

World

The SpaceX factor: How Musk’s Starlink brings internet to Ukraine

There is concern, however, that billionaires and satellite companies are beginning to clutter space

Bruce Einhorn, Ragini Saxena and Thomas Seal

As the US and its allies provide Ukraine with aid, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government is also getting assistance from a less likely source: Elon Musk. Soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin started the war and Ukraine publicly pleaded for help, Musk’s SpaceX enabled its Starlink satellite broadband service in Ukraine and began shipping additional dishes. Those dishes are especially valuable now that Russia’s military is targeting Ukrainian infrastructure. “Received the second shipment of Starlink stations!” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tweeted on March 9. “@elonmusk keeps his word!”

The dishes Musk has provided to Ukraine and to Tonga after its January tsunami have cast a spotlight on low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, a new generation of spacecraft that can circle the globe in just 90 minutes and connect users to the internet. They’re small and inexpensive: A Starlink satellite weighs 260kg and costs from $250,000 (R3.7m) to $500,000 (R7.4m), while an Inmarsat geostationary satellite can clock in at four metric tons and sell for $130m (R1.9bn).

The satellite networks will be able to provide broadband access to tens of millions of people in places such as rural India that otherwise lack access to more traditional mobile and fixed-line networks. “There is a large opportunity to bridge the digital divide in remote areas where the cost of terrestrial communication is high, and hence both voice and broadband communication have not been set up,” says Anil Bhatt, director-general of the Indian Space Association...

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