Elon Musk Says SpaceX Can’t Afford To Pay For Starlink In Ukraine

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk appeared to confirm reports that SpaceX will not be able to continue funding Starlink terminals providing satellite-based internet in Ukraine, in a tweet early Friday.

Starlink, which uses satellites to provide internet access as opposed to wired connections or ground-based wireless towers, has been key to maintaining communication within the Ukrainian military as cell phone towers and other internet infrastructure have been destroyed, CNN reported Thursday. However, SpaceX told the Pentagon in a September 8 letter that the program would cost $400 million through the next 12 months, requesting the Department of Defense pick up the tab as well as cover ongoing maintenance costs, according to documents obtained by CNN.

“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable,” Musk said in a tweet early Friday morning, responding to the CNN report.

“The Department continues to work with industry to explore solutions for Ukraine’s armed forces as they repel Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression,” a Department of Defense spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “We do not have anything else to add at this time.”

Following an aggressive September campaign that saw Ukrainian forces liberate significant amounts of territory in northeastern Ukraine, Starlink outages along the frontline of the conflict were reported on Sept. 30, and occurred with no warning, CNN reported. The communications struggles have made it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to advance, with one anonymous source telling the outlet that “Starlink is the main way units on the battlefield have to communicate.”

Musk has been publicly sparring with Ukrainian officials since suggesting in a Oct. 3 tweet that the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014, ought to remain a part of Russia and that Ukraine ought to remain neutral between Russia and NATO as the conditions of a peace deal to end the conflict. The tweet, and Musk’s subsequent claims he was interested primarily in a diplomatic solution, drew the ire of Ukrainian diplomat Andrij Melnykm who told him “[f]uck off is my very diplomatic reply to you.”

When Kyiv Post journalist Jason Jay Smart commented on the issue, noting that the reports of Starlink’s request came after this dispute, Musk simply replied “[w]e’re just following his recommendation.” Smart did not mention that the letter requesting more money came almost a month earlier than the conflict between Musk and Melnykm.

SpaceX has thus far donated 20,000 Starlink units to Ukraine, according to CNN, which Musk claimed “has cost SpaceX $80M & will exceed $100M by end of year.”

The Embassy of Ukraine in the United States declined to comment, but directed the Daily Caller News Foundation to a statement by Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Let’s be honest,” said Podolyak on Twitter. “Like it or not, [Elon Musk] helped us survive the most critical moments of the war. Business has the right to its own strategies. [Ukraine] will find a solution to keep [Starlink] working. We expect that the company will provide stable connection till the end of negotiations”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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