Can Elon Musk’s Starlink Keep Ukraine Online?

Ukrainians share recipes and tips for how to drive abandoned troop carriers since the Russian invasion. 

The Russians have been contacted via encrypted apps and asked to coordinate strategies.

Even though it lost on the battlefield to Russia, Ukraine managed to highlight the terribleness and foolishness of Russian aggression. It was possible due in large part to the efforts of ordinary Ukrainian citizens. You will still have internet access.

However, this may not be the case for too long. In the areas where there is the most fighting, outages of the internet are common. Russia, which has information as power on the battlefield means that Russia could find ways to take the country offline.

This is why Ukraine has a Vice Prime Minister (and Minister of Digital Transformation) tweetedElon Musk: “We plead with you to give Ukraine Starlink stations. Also, to make it clear that we are addressing the rational Russians who should be standing.”

Starlink is currently active in Ukraine. Musk replied later in the day. This is a collapsing of a regulatory process which can take months to years and that takes less than 280 characters.

Starlink has been operational since 2021. This global satellite internet provider is owned by Musk’s SpaceX. SpaceX aims to offer low latency and high-speed internet in areas where there may not be reliable and dense internet.

Ukrainians cannot connect to Starlink satellites directly. They need ground terminals first.

“…terminals en route,” was how Musk finished his tweet, and less than 48 hours later, Fedorov replied with a picture showing a truckload of them in Ukraine, “Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk”

These terminals must be transported into the cities under siege, and then connected to Wi-Fi. This will enable Ukrainians to access their devices. This is a difficult task in the middle of war.

If terminals go offline, they will need to be powered up with batteries or generators.

Triangulated radio signals may also be possible. Musk also warns that Russian forces could target terminals. He advises users to “keep them as far from people”

Starlink may be a lifeline for some Ukrainians if it can be maintained and installed. 

The internet’s promise to be a global community is fulfilled by separating it from its geography and allowing it to exist outside of the control of the state.  

“The dream of the internet was one of complete deterritorialization,” says Eli Dourado, a senior research fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. Internet was meant to be a universal network that doesn’t care where you are located. Through this transparent network, geography doesn’t matter. You can connect to everyone on the planet through it. We have seen just how far we’ve fallen short of this goal. It’s been seen that some countries censor internet. The internet could have a wonderful outcome if the First Amendment was available for export to all of the planet.

Starlink can Starlink fulfill its original promise of being a liberating tool. What if Putin was forced to explain to an internet-connected populace that can see war’s unflinching truth? That could change how a conflict is played out.

Starlink’s most important innovation is the ability to relay the signal across time zones and borders. This could make it more difficult for any country to monitor or censor what their citizens are accessing online. This is possible if Starlink turns off service at those locations first and routes internet traffic to ground stations in neighbouring countries.

Starlink might not be able to fulfill that purpose, even though the technology is there. Dourado points out that Starlink is a commercial offer from an American firm that launches frequently into space. The outer space treaty states that SpaceX’s activities in space are ultimately the responsibility of the United States government. Starlink was only made available to countries which have welcomed it.

The technology has promise. People living in North Korea or China might soon have access to satellite internet via uncensored means.

The internet is allowing everyday Ukrainians to organize their defense. Starlink might help them prevail in the battle.

Isaac Reese wrote and produced the book

Photos: Vlad Karkov/SOPA Photos via ZUMA Press Wire. Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto through ZUMA Press. Jill Bazeley; Connie Zhou/ZUMA Press/Newscom. Connie Zhou/; Sergei Fadeichev/TASS; Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA; Gene Blevins/Polaris Images; Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa; Gene Blevins/Polaris/Newscom; Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images/Si/Newscom; Hennadii Minchenkoukrinform/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; KARLINER/VOT TAK TV/SIPA/Newscom; Vitaliy Smolnikov/Kommersant Photo / Polaris/Newscom; Gavriil Grigorov/TASS/Newscom; Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Newscom; Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Newscom

Music: Angel Salazar’s “X”, Borrtex’s “The City of Hope”, “Move Quickly”, Nick Kelly’s “3 Hours”, “3 Hours” and “Fighter”, both by Tristan Barton.