Elon Musk says SpaceX to continue funding Starlink services in Ukraine

Move comes a day after billionaire said company couldn’t indefinitely fund the broadband service

SpaceX founder and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk speaks via video during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, last year. Reuters
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Elon Musk said Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will continue to fund its Starlink broadband service in Ukraine in an apparent step back from seeking support from the US Department of Defence.

The shift comes a day after Mr Musk confirmed on Twitter that the closely held company had told the Pentagon it couldn’t fund the system indefinitely that has helped Ukraine combat Russia’s invasion.

The defence department confirmed on Friday it was in talks with SpaceX. It also said the US is looking at other options.

“The hell with it,” Mr Musk tweeted on Saturday. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

Withdrawing support of Starlink threatened a key means of communication used by Ukraine’s military forces in areas that don’t otherwise have cellular service.

Ukraine has 20,000 Starlink terminals that have been provided by USAID, Poland, the EU and private companies, according to an October 5 report from state-run news agency Ukrinform that cited Ministry of Digitalisation data.

Poland purchased 11,700 Starlink terminals for Ukraine, including 5,000 acquired by state-controlled refiner PKN Orlen, according to Janusz Cieszynski, the government official in charge of cyber security.

Mr Musk angered Ukrainians by suggesting last week that the country should seek a negotiated solution to the invasion by Russia that would include ceding Crimea — which was annexed by Moscow in 2014 — for good.

He also tweeted a poll on whether citizens of recently annexed and occupied parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea should decide if they want to live in Russia or Ukraine, days after Ukraine, Europe and the US denounced annexation moves by President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Musk stated that the amount SpaceX was requesting to give Ukraine a “major battlefield advantage” was less than the cost of one new GPS satellite.

This image shows the first 60 Starlink satellites launched into orbit on May 23, 2019. They are still in their stacked configuration, just prior to being deployed. Courtesy SpaceX
Updated: October 16, 2022, 4:33 PM