SpaceX cuts off Ukraine's 'offensive' Starlink use
Please, please, don't shoot down our satellites, Vlad
While SpaceX continues sending its Starlink terminals to Ukraine - provided the cash keeps coming in - it isn't okay with its satellite internet gear being used directly in war, such as piloting military drones.
Speaking at the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington DC, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said Starlink was never meant to be weaponized, but that "Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement."
According to Reuters, Shotwell was referring to reported use of Starlink by the Ukrainian military to remotely control drones. While she didn't specify what precisely SpaceX had done to stop Ukraine from using Starlink in ways it didn't approve of, Shotwell did say there were things SpaceX could do to limit use it doesn't agree with.
"... things that we can do, and have done," Shotwell reportedly said. The Elon Musk-run SpaceX didn't answer our requests for more details about what those things may be.
The SpaceX COO said her org was fine with Ukraine using Starlink for military communications, but that it drew the line at what it considered more offensive use. As to whether SpaceX anticipated such a use of Starlink service, Shotwell said: "We didn't think about it … but we learned pretty quickly."
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Drones have been used widely by both Ukrainian and Russian forces in the nearly year-long conflict.
Responding to media reports of Shotwell's comments, Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs and former deputy minister in that office, expressed gratitude for Starlink's presence in Ukraine and said he believed it had likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Gerashchenko disagreed with Shotwell's characterization of the use of Starlink by Ukraine's military as "offensive," though, saying in a tweet that "Ukraine doesn't offense, we liberate, protect ours."
"No neutrality in fight of good and evil," Gerashchenko added.
Yet another SpaceX/Ukraine tiff
It's not the first time SpaceX, or its zillionaire owner Elon Musk, has raised a stink about supplying service in Ukraine, though previous complaints were more directly financially motivated.
Last year it emerged SpaceX had been unhappy with having to supply Ukraine with Starlink service for nothing but good will - terminals were both donated by and purchased from the company - but that fuss didn't last long before Musk threw his hands in the air and said SpaceX would "just keep funding Ukraine govt for free."
Since then, Russia has expressed dissatisfaction with Starlink's presence in Ukraine, saying that commercial space systems, such as SpaceX Starlink satellites, risked becoming legitimate military targets if their services were used in war zones, like Ukraine.
"Apparently, [Western] states do not realize that such actions in fact constitute indirect participation in military conflicts," a Russian representative to the UK said at the time.
That hasn't stopped Starlink terminals from flowing into Ukraine - around 25,000 have been deployed as of November, and that was before the invaded country secured a deal with Euro nations to pay for an additional 10,000 to be delivered in early 2023.
SpaceX may be simply trying to play it safe by making a public statement that its satellites aren't being used offensively, so please don't shoot them down, but we weren't able to gauge that because the biz didn't respond to those questions, either.
To be fair, at least SpaceX's mailbox isn't full. ®
Mysterious Russian satellite Kosmos 2499 broke apart at the start of the year, leaving debris that could linger in Earth orbit for years. The sat was launched in 2014.
And speaking of Elon Musk, it's claimed he fired a senior engineer at Twitter after the techie tried to explain to the billionaire that his tweet view count is falling because his popularity was simply waning on the very micro-blogging site he bought for $44 billion.