SpaceX sent a truck full of Starlink user terminals to Ukraine, according to an image tweeted by the country’s vice prime minster, who had asked CEO Elon Musk for assistance during Russia’s invasion. Over the weekend, Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted at Musk, asking him to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations. In response, Musk said that the satellite internet service had been activated for the country and that more terminals were on their way. Today, it seems that promise has been fulfilled, with Musk responding to Fedorov’s latest tweet, “You are most welcome.”
As fighting continues in Ukrainian cities, there have been concerns that there could be cyberattacks on critical internet infrastructure, which could make it harder for news to leave the country or for people to contact loved ones. These fears were heightened following some partial outages that occurred last week.
In order to tap into the Starlink system, consumers must have a user terminal — a white flat dish that SpaceX sells directly to customers. With a clear view of the sky, the dishes can send and receive signals from any active Starlink satellites that are overhead. It’s these terminals that have been shipped to Ukraine, though it’s unclear from the photo how many there are.
Much of the infrastructure that powers satellite internet exists in space, though there is still plenty of equipment on the ground. In order to provide internet access, satellites must be able to communicate with gateways, fixed ground stations on Earth that are connected to existing fiber-optic cables.
There’s still a possibility of technical issues or cyberattacks on satellite internet like Starlink — another satellite ISP says it’s experiencing disruptions in the country thanks to a “cyber event,” according to a CNBC report.
Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious internet-from-space initiative, aimed at launching tens of thousands of satellites to low Earth orbit to provide broadband Internet coverage to the ground below. So far, the company has nearly 2,000 active satellites in orbit. In January, SpaceX claimed during a launch livestream that it had 145,000 active users, and Musk implied in a February tweet that SpaceX has more than 250,000 user terminals in production.
Now that the dishes have arrived in Ukraine, it’s unclear exactly how they will be used or distributed, though one Twitter user posted a screenshot claiming to be using the service in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The antennas do need unimpeded access to the sky, which may be difficult in a warzone. Additionally, the locations of SpaceX’s gateways aren’t explicitly public info, but internet sleuths on Reddit have found some, including one in Ukraine’s neighbor Poland.
Despite many customers having their Starlink orders delayed in the past year, some members of the Starlink subreddit have said they’d be willing to wait longer if it could help people in Ukraine. Others have asked if they’d be able to send their personal terminals to the country. It’s debatable how practical (or even feasible) these goodwill gestures would be, but it’s another example of people being willing to come together to support Ukraine.