Elon Musk’s aerospace firm has asked the US military to take over funding for its Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine, saying it is no longer able to foot the cost of operations, according to company documents obtained by CNN.
In a letter sent to the Pentagon last month, SpaceX outlined its financial difficulties and asked the government to begin funding Starlink services for Ukraine, claiming it will cost more than $120 million for the rest of 2022, and some $400 million over the next 12 months.
- “We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales said in the letter.
SpaceX has donated around 20,000 Starlink satellite units to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict in late February, providing internet connection and military coordination in chaotic battlegrounds that would otherwise be cut off from the web. Ukrainian officials have hailed the system as “an essential part of critical infrastructure.”
Kiev has nonetheless urged the company to send thousands of additional Starlink terminals, with another letter obtained by CNN showing that a top Ukrainian general, Valery Zaluzhny, directly asked for 8,000 units back in July.
- An outside consultant for SpaceX later wrote that the firm “faces terribly difficult decisions here,” adding “I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General Zaluzhny.”
While Musk has stated that SpaceX will have spent more than $100 million providing Starlink services to Ukraine by the end of the year, the company’s letter to the Pentagon indicates that other parties have helped to bear some costs.
The “vast majority” of the 20,000 units furnished to Ukraine have received “full or partial funding” from the American, British and Polish governments, as well as NGOs and private fundraisers, though SpaceX has covered most of the service costs of around $4,500 per terminal each month.
More recently, SpaceX has come under fire for alleged Starlink outages across some regions of Ukraine, with the Financial Times relaying reports from Ukrainian soldiers of a “catastrophic” loss of communications last week.
- The cause of the outages remains unclear, though Ukrainian officials insist the problems were not the result of a technical glitch or cyberattacks, instead suggesting “SpaceX-imposed geographical restrictions.” Service has since resumed in the affected areas, however.