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SpaceX curbed Ukraine's use of Starlink internet for drones

09.02.2023, 11:20
Photo: REUTERS / Clodagh Kilcoyne
Photo: REUTERS / Clodagh Kilcoyne

SpaceX has taken steps to prevent Ukraine's military from using the company's Starlink satellite internet service for controlling drones in the region during the country's war with Russia.

This was announced on February 8 by SpaceX's president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell during a conference in Washington, D.C, Ukrinform reports, citing Reuters.

According to her, SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service, which has provided Ukraine's military with broadband communications in its defense against Russia's military, was "never never meant to be weaponized."

"However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement," she said.

Speaking later with reporters, Shotwell referred to reports that the Ukrainian military had used the Starlink service to control drones. Ukraine has made effective use of unmanned aircraft for spotting enemy positions, targeting long-range fires and dropping bombs.

"There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that," she said, referring to Starlink's use with drones. "There are things that we can do, and have done."

Shotwell declined to say what measures SpaceX had taken.

Using Starlink with drones went beyond the scope of an agreement SpaceX has with the Ukrainian government, Shotwell said, adding the contract was intended for humanitarian purposes such as providing broadband internet to hospitals, banks and families affected by Russia's invasion.

"We know the military is using them for comms, and that's ok," she said. "But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes."

SpaceX has privately shipped truckloads of Starlink terminals to Ukraine, allowing the country's military to communicate by plugging them in and connecting them with the nearly 4,000 satellites SpaceX has launched into low-Earth orbit so far.

Governments including the United States and France have paid for other shipments of Starlink terminals on top of those funded privately by SpaceX.

Russia has attempted to jam Starlink signals in the region, though SpaceX countered by hardening the service's software, Elon Musk, the company's chief executive, has said.

As IMI reported, in early October, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk rejected a Ukrainian request to extend his satellite internet service Starlink to Russian-occupied Crimea. He believes that an effort to retake the peninsula from Russian forces could lead to a nuclear war. Musk posted a Twitter poll where he laid out his own formula for ending the war; namely, he proposed holding another "referendum" in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and Ukraine resuming water supply to Crimea.

In response, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, posted his own Twitter poll asking "which Elon Musk do you like more: the one who supports Ukraine or the one who supports Russia." Later, Musk wrote that he still strongly supported Ukraine, but "is convinced that a large-scale escalation of the war will cause great damage to Ukraine and possibly the world."

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