How Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Is Defending Ukraine

by Lisa M. Krieger

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

In a provocative move as sinister as his moon launch, Elon Musk plunges himself into the tragedy of international conflict by strengthening Ukraine’s internet connection to the outside world.

Last Wednesday, his trucks delivered a second shipment of satellite-based Starlink internet stations to battered Ukraine, responding to an appeal from the country’s deputy prime minister. His first shipment arrived on February 28, just four days after Russian forces launched an attack on the nation.

His system transmits data from space – thus, unlike Earth-based networks, it is less vulnerable to attack or authoritarian control. These aspects seem to irritate Russian officials.

“This is the West that we should never trust,” Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of the Russian Space Agency, replied on a state TV channel translated by Katya Pavlushenko on Twitter. “When Russia applies its highest national interests on the territory of Ukraine, Elon Musk appears with the previously announced Starlink as purely civilian.”

There are also other complications. The use of Starlink is potentially dangerous because the Russian military can detect and identify citizens through their satellite communications, warned John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab in Toronto. “User submissions via uplink become air raid beacons,” he wrote on Twitter.

Musk himself took to Twitter to offer strategic advice for Ukrainian amplifiers, instructing users to “put light blur over the antenna to avoid visual detection” and “turn on Starlink only when needed and position the antenna as far (sic) away from people as possible.”

Meanwhile, his company launched another 48 satellites into orbit on Wednesday as part of a growing effort to bring high-speed internet to Europe’s skies.

Billionaire Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and others, was not a typical tech mogul. While others are quiet and detached, he is a showman. He jumps into battle with strange ideas, and suggests transporting tourists around the moon, colonizing Mars and deploying a mini-submarine to rescue Thai footballers trapped in a cave.

Experts say that if Russia destroys Ukraine’s internet or attempts to silence its digital communications, Musk’s expanded system of satellite internet could help keep the nation connected to the outside world.

In repressive states, “it’s a game changer, because you now have a way to bypass any centralized control over what citizens can get,” said Herbert Lane, a senior researcher on politics and cybersecurity at the Center on International Security at Stanford University. cooperation. “Government censorship of the internet no longer works.”

“When cost and volume come down, and Starlink is fully deployed, the geopolitical ramifications are likely to be very profound,” Lin said.

Larry Press, a professor of information systems at California State University, said Starlink satellites are “valuable tools for communication by political leaders, insurgents, and journalists, if they are unable to safely access the Internet or are blocked.”

Ukraine has responded gratefully. “Starlink keeps our cities connected and emergency services save lives!” Mikhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of the country tweeted.

So far, the country’s internet, with Starlink as a backup, is largely off, according to Emile Appen, systems engineer and research coordinator at Amsterdam-based RIPE NCC.

There are several reasons for its flexibility. There is no dominant player in the Internet market in the country, so the failure of the individual system does not lead to the collapse of the entire network. Its networks are run by Ukrainian companies, so they are not under government control. Finally, its tech workers were heroic in their fixes, Eben wrote.

“But there is a stopping point for all infrastructure,” he wrote.

Satellite Internet technology has always been a promising but overrated way to provide service over a network of 2,000 small satellites in the sky. In the US, the provider is considered a last resort, as it is very expensive and data is restricted more strictly.

Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, which builds Starlink, is an industry leader. Amazon, Boeing, OneWeb, Telesat and other companies may soon set up their own companies.

Starlink’s express shipments to Ukraine are partly a coincidence. Back in January, when Ukraine was still a peaceful country, the company wanted to include the country in its expanding European market, according to SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell in a special March 7 presentation at CalTech reported by . She added that before the war, she requested rights to dispose of capabilities in Ukraine.

To speed up delivery, several hundred Starlink units have been tested, packaged and shipped by volunteers with Tesla’s Giga Berlin team and Germany Service, according to a leaked email from Tesla. A shipment of Powerwall battery storage units, to help support the stations, has been assembled by Tesla Energy employees in Germany.

“I think the best way to support democracies is to make sure we all understand what the truth is,” Shotwell said, according to

Musk hasn’t revealed how many peripherals he has delivered or where they’re headed. His system will not help Ukrainians share information internally; Therefore, they still need the local network. But its stations can speak to each other – and to the international community.

Responding to the Russian criticism, Musk Druli replied: “Ukrainian civilian internet has been having weird outages – maybe bad weather? – so SpaceX is helping fix it.”

Communication footage shows that between seven and 10 Starlink satellites are in service over the cities of Odessa and Lviv and between two and six in Kharkiv, based on analysis of the tracking system by CSU Press.

If Kyiv is given terminal stations, it will have a “100% uptime” with connections via up to nine satellites to ground stations in Turkey, Poland and Lithuania, the press reported.

In the blood-soaked city of Mariupol, besieged and without water, gas or electricity, the internet has been off since March 2.

In response to the crisis, the company has made a software update that reduces the terminals’ need for power – so if the power goes out, they can be powered by the car’s cigarette lighter.

It also enabled roaming so that a terminal could be used in a moving vehicle, making it easier to avoid detection. Some Starlink stations near conflict areas were jammed for hours at a time, Musk tweeted, but a software update resulted in an override.

US officials say Starlink’s presence in Ukraine demonstrates the role of satellite internet in conflict zones. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, called Musk’s move “positive news” and an example of “private actors’ entry into contested environments.”

“What we’re seeing with Elon Musk and the capabilities of Starlink really shows us what massive planets or proliferating architecture can provide in terms of redundancy and capability,” General James Dickinson, commander of US Space Command, told panel members.

If the Russians take over Ukraine’s network, the country could lose access to the wider Internet. Lin said it will take some time for Russian control. Any new Ukrainian regime installed by Russia is likely, at least initially, to be technically incompetent.

“But internet access will be severely restricted,” Lin said. “You’d have other ways to do it. Mask stations give you a way.”

Musk activates Starlink Internet service in Ukraine

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