SpaceX Withdraws Request Asking Pentagon To Fund Starlink For Ukraine

Ramish Zafar
A Starlink user terminal in the outdoors. Image: ArsTechnica

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SpaceX's Starlink satellite service has withdrawn its funding request for providing the Ukrainian military and civilians with wartime coverage revealed the company's chief Mr. Elon Musk. The executive shared the latest update after several publications quoted unnamed Pentagon officials to claim that the Defense Department was looking at alternative service providers for Ukraine after it was revealed earlier that SpaceX had asked to be compensated for providing the Ukrainians with coverage. After facing backlash on social media and in the press, Mr. Musk announced late last week that his company would continue to fund Starlink coverage for Ukraine after he reminded followers on Twitter that Starlink is yet to turn a profit.

Musk Shares That Less Than Half Of The Terminals Shipped To Ukraine Are Paying For Starlink Coverage

Starlink's support to Ukraine, which has continued since Russia's brutal invasion kicked off early this year came at the center of controversy when CNN published a leaked letter that the firm had written to the Pentagon. In it, the company asked the government agency to fund its Starlink coverage, stating that it is still funding close to 70% of the roughly 25,000 terminals that have been shipped to Ukraine.

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In response, aid workers from Ukraine took to Twitter to share that they were paying for the costs of battlefield coverage out of pocket, and that the terminals they and the soldiers fighting on the frontlines had acquired were not donated by either any company or government agency.

Starlink has seen its usage grow nearly exponentially within months after being shipped to Ukraine, and its terminals are capable of providing coverage to thousands of users each once they connect to cellular towers according to Musk.

Starlink downloads and uploads data for Ukraine from March to May 2022. Image: Elon Musk/Twitter

Now, after the latest round of discussion surrounding the issue of funding Ukraine's Starlink coverage converged on the Pentagon looking for alternatives, after Stripes first quoted an unnamed Defense Department official sharing that his agency was discussing options with other satellite internet firms, and Politico followed up with its own report earlier today, Musk confirmed on Twitter that his company has withdrawn its funding request.

He also shared more details about the number of terminals that SpaceX is providing free coverage for in the war torn region, and revealed that so far, 25,300 terminals have been shipped to Ukraine and out of these, 10,630 - or 42% - are paying for Internet coverage.

Starlink is the world's leading satellite internet provider, and it has consistently outperformed even broadband internet in most countries in the world. Any alternatives that the Pentagon might have in mind will end up in service degradation.

It is the only company in the world right now that uses the low Earth orbit (LEO) for satellite coverage, and has a constellation of thousands of satellites that is the largest in the world. Operating at LEO reduces the time that it takes for a packet of information to travel back and from a satellite dish that is used by users to access the Internet.

Others, such as Viasat and HughesNet, use satellites higher in orbit and therefore suffer from slower speeds. Starlink has received widespread praise for its performance in Ukraine, with the military official quoted by Stripes also calling the service "exceptional." Musk has claimed that it costs his company millions of dollars each month to keep it operational in Ukraine, as not only does SpaceX have to manage the subscriber fees, but it also has to keep up with Russian attempts to dirsupt the service. Russian officials to the United Nation have also threatened military action against the Starlink satellites.

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