When Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted at SpaceX founder Elon Musk to ask for Starlink internet services amidst the Russian invasion, the tech billionaire delivered — with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Wednesday it has provided 5,000 SpaceX Starlink satellite internet terminals to the Government of Ukraine in partnership with Elon Musk-founded SpaceX.
USAID said the terminals will provide Ukraine with “unlimited, unthrottled data connectivity,” keeping communications open for the government and citizens alike, “even if Putin’s brutal aggression severs Ukraine’s fiber optic or cellular communication infrastructure connections.”
SpaceX Starlink’s terminals help a user connect to the internet through the company’s constellation of satellites without the need for a cable connection. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last month the country would get additional Starlink terminals, having spoken with Elon Musk.
Space reporter Joey Roulette tweeted Wednesday that the majority of the terminals — 3,667, to be exact — as well as the associated internet service were donated directly by SpaceX at a cost of “roughly $10 million,” with USAID purchasing the remaining 1,333 terminals. These numbers apparently came from an earlier version of the USAID release; the updated release doesn’t give dollar figures and refers only to 5,000 Starlink terminals donated by a public-private partnership.
While expensive to deploy, SpaceX satellite technology can provide internet for people who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach.
Roulette also suggested in another tweet that France and Poland had made contributions to the SpaceX Starlink shipments to Ukraine, citing an earlier conversation with SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell. The USAID announcement only refers to the American partnership, however.
Fedorov originally asked for aid on Feb. 26, and the first shipment of SpaceX Starlink terminals arrived just two days later — a remarkable logistical feat. But it turns out that SpaceX had already been working on the Ukraine delivery for six weeks at that point, initiating the process well before Russia’s invasion, and was simply awaiting permission to enter the country.
SpaceX Starlink program is designed to provide affordable, low-latency internet service to remote locations around the world via its ever-growing constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit, with launches adding to the network roughly once every week or two throughout 2022.
Ukraine is not SpaceX’s first humanitarian mission. For example, the aerospace company also sent Starlink terminals to the Pacific island nation of Tonga after a volcanic eruption interrupted communication services there on Dec. 20, 2021.