SpaceX has taken measures to prevent Ukraine’s military from using the company’s Starlink satellite internet service for controlling drones in the region during the war with Russia, SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters on Wednesday.
According to her, Starlink satellites “were never intended to be used as weapons,” even though the Ukrainian military used Starlink to control drones.
“However, the Ukrainians used it unintentionally and not within the framework of any agreement. There are things we can do to limit their ability to do this. There are things we can do and have already done,” Shotwell said.
She declined to say precisely what measures had been taken. Shotwell also noted that the contract was intended for humanitarian purposes, such as providing internet to hospitals, banks, and families affected by the Russian invasion.
“We know that the military uses them for communication, and this is normal. But we never wanted them to be used for offensive purposes,” the Starlink president added.
Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to President Volodymyr’s Zelensky’s chief of staff, reacted to SpaceX’s decision by tweeting: “A year of resistance & companies have to decide: Either they are on the side of & the right to freedom, and don’t seek ways to do harm. Or they are on RF’s side & its “right” to kill & seize territories. Shotwell should choose a specific option.”
After the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, SpaceX began to provide Ukraine with Starlink satellites and equipment so they could access the internet where there was no connection.
In October, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, said that SpaceX’s costs for enabling and supporting Starlink in Ukraine have already amounted to about $80 million and “will exceed $100 million by the end of 2022.”
Also in October, the Financial Times newspaper reported that there were interruptions in the operation of the Starlink satellite network. According to the publication, the problems were in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Some such interruptions have led to a “catastrophic” loss of communication on the battlefield, the FT noted.
SpaceX has asked the Pentagon to take over the payment for Starlink supplies and maintenance in Ukraine. Later, Elon Musk announced that his company had withdrawn an appeal to the U.S. Department of Defense for funding.
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