Elon Musk has handed Ukraine a major boost to combat Russia’s aggression, as Kyiv has signed a new deal with SpaceX, with funding from several European countries. Under this deal, Ukraine will receive more than 22,000 more Starlink terminals in the coming months, according to Ukraine government official Mykhailo Fedorov. He also clarified “all financial issues have been resolved,” at least until the spring, referring to an incident last month when 1,300 Starlink satellite units went offline over a funding issue. So far, the SpaceX CEO has already handed Kyiv over 10,000 dish antennas to its new satellite constellation service, which aims to bring internet access everywhere.
These satellites have been deployed in settings from governmental buildings, hospitals and schools — to help control drones used to combat the invading Russian forces.
However, over the past few months, Ukraine has feared the loss of access to these critical communications equipment, after outages were reported on the frontlines amid discussions over funding.
Now in an interview with Bloomberg, Mr Fedorov said that “Musk assured us he will continue to support Ukraine. When we had a powerful blackout, I messaged him on that day and he momentarily reacted and has already delivered some steps. He understands the situation .”
In September, SpaceX sent a letter to the US Pentagon, claiming that the space company had spent nearly $100 million (£87.4 million) funding Starlink in Ukraine.
They warned that they could no longer support Ukraine for free, and requested tens of millions of dollars a month from the US government to fund Ukraine’s military.
However, later in October, the world’s second richest man changed his stance as he tweeted: “The hell with it, Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
Since facing disruptions to Ukraine’s broadband internet services, Mr Federov stressed Starlink’s crucial role in supporting Ukraine’s military, saying: “There is no alternative to satellite connections.”
He added that while there is no contract yet, several European Union countries had agreed to share payments saying: “As of now all financial issues have been resolved”. However, he noted that Ukraine would need to find additional funding in the spring.
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Days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Mr Musk came to Kyiv’s aid after Mr Federov begged the multi-billionaire for help by tweeting: “While you try to colonize Mars — Russia tries to occupy Ukraine!
“While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civilians! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.”
Despite Mr. Musk’s claim that he withdrew the request to the Pentagon for funding Starlink, a senior defense official said last month that negotiations between SpaceX and the US Defense Department were still continuing.
The official said: “Negotiations are very much underway. Everyone in our building knows we’re going to pay them”. The US is looking to have the commitments down in writing over fears that Mr Musk would “change his mind”.
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A source added that Starlink satellite units had begun facing outages on October 24. Describing it a “huge problem” for the military, they said that the terminals had been disconnected due to a lack of funding.
The outage took down a block of 1,300 units that Ukraine had purchased from a British firm in March, and was used for combat-related operations.
They added that SpaceX was charging Ukraine’s military $2,500 (£2,180) a month to keep units connected, with the total expenses rising to nearly $20 million by September, which Kyiv could no longer afford to pay.
Before the terminals went offline, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense issued a request to the UK Government last month to help pick up a $3.25million (£2.8million) monthly bill. They also began rotating out the batch of terminals in an attempt to minimize the impact of the service being cut off.