Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has urged the Department of Defense to take over funding for the Starlink satellite network in Ukraine, saying his company cannot continue to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to provide web service for the war torn nation.
CNN says it obtained documents that show SpaceX requested the Pentagon foot the bill for Starlink, a collection of low-orbit satellites that have allowed Ukrainians to access the internet after Moscow destroyed much of Kiev’s ground-based internet infrastructure.
SpaceX said it will cost over $30 million per month to provide internet to Ukraine, adding that the price tag would reach $120 million by the end of 2022 and $400 million over the next 12 months, according to the CNN report.
The documents show the financial burden of supplying Kiev with Starlink, as SpaceX has furnished the country with some 20,000 terminals since Russia’s invasion in February. One letter obtained by CNN shows that a high-ranking Ukrainian military official asked for an additional 8,000 Starlink access points in July, but an outside consultant working for SpaceX explained the company could not afford the request. “SpaceX faces terribly difficult decisions here. I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General [Valerii] Zaluzhniy,” the consultant wrote.
On Thursday, Musk said his company is spending about $20 million per month to maintain Starlink for Kiev, but noted operations were becoming more expensive due to cyber attacks and jamming by Russian forces.
Musk also took to Twitter to speculate on the release of SpaceX’s documents to CNN, writing “Strange that nothing was leaked about our competitors in space launch & communications, Lockheed & Boeing, who get over $60B.”
The CEO suggested the documents may have been leaked by a corrupt official. “Wouldn’t be surprised to find this particular individual working [for Lockheed or Boeing] when he retires from DoD. Corruption at its finest,” he said.
On Friday, the Department of Defense confirmed it was in talks with Musk’s firm on continuing to provide internet service to Kiev, with Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh saying “the department has been in communication with SpaceX regarding Starlink.”
However, Singh indicated the Pentagon was considering other companies, as “There are certainly other Satcom capabilities that exist out there.”
“There’s not just SpaceX, there are other entities that we can certainly partner with when it comes to providing Ukraine with what they need on the battlefield,” she added.
Musk tweeted it was “insanely difficult” for a low-earth-orbit “communications constellation to avoid bankruptcy – that was the fate of every company that tried this before.”
Despite providing Ukraine’s military with internet services over the past seven months, Musk has come under fire from Kiev and Washington in recent weeks. On October 3, the Tesla CEO tweeted a potential peace plan to end the war in Ukraine, proposing a series of compromises for both sides. Kiev’s ambassador to Germany responded by telling Musk to “f*uck off,” while Washington Post columnist Max Boot accused the CEO of spreading Russian propaganda.
Additionally, recent web outages near the battlefront in eastern Ukraine have prompted calls for an official probe from some American politicians. “Evidently the Starlink system is down over the front lines of Ukraine. [Musk] should make a statement about this, or, this should be investigated. This is a national security issue,” GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger wrote on Twitter.
Musk says his space-based internet service is increasingly coming under attack, and that “Russia is actively trying to kill Starlink.”
Amid the criticism, however, Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak has praised SpaceX’s efforts. “Like it or not, [Musk] helped us survive the most critical moments of 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,” he said on Twitter.
Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister of Ukraine, also observed that Starlink has been uniquely resilient under Russian bombardment, saying “Over 100 cruise missiles attacked [Ukrainian] energy and communications infrastructure. But with Starlink we quickly restored the connection in critical areas. Starlink continues to be an essential part of critical infrastructure.”