How Starlink, run by Elon Musk, is assisting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Even in hostile environments, Starlink services are simple to use and hard to disrupt. How? Read on.
On January 7, Elon Musk sparked yet another debate when he called tanks “deathtraps” and suggested that they shouldn’t be used in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Tanks are a deathtrap right now, the US billionaire declared in a tweet. Since neither side has an air advantage, all that’s left are infantry and artillery, which is essentially World War One.
His remarks follow the US’s donation of tank-killing armoured vehicles to Ukraine as part of a multibillion-dollar military aid package.
Musk’s remarks on the Russia-Ukraine war have drawn attention in the past as well. At the beginning of the conflict, he received praise for giving Ukraine thousands of free Starlink satellite internet devices manufactured by his company SpaceX. However, when he advocated for Ukraine to reach a peace agreement with Russia and renounce its claim to the Crimea in October 2022, he was criticised by Ukrainian officials and their allies.
Despite his remarks, The Economist recently reported that Musk’s Starlink has become a crucial component of Ukraine’s effort to fend off the Russian invasion by acting as a “modicum of connectivity”.
Elon Musk: Knowing how Starlink functions
Numerous little satellites in low-Earth orbit make up the satellite constellation known as Starlink. There are currently more than 3,000 of these satellites in orbit that send internet signals to predetermined ground receivers. SpaceX started launching them into space in 2019.
Starlink doesn’t require any ground infrastructure, in contrast to conventional internet service providers. Similar to satellite TV, access to high-speed internet only requires the possession of a small satellite dish or receiver device.
In order to assist customers in selecting the best location and position for their receivers, the company also offers a mobile application for Android and iOS.
SpaceX intends to “expand the network to up to 12,000 satellites, also with a possible extension to 42,000,” according to a DW report.
The first time Ukrainians and their armed forces had access to Starlink was when Mykhailo Fedorov, the nation’s minister of digital transformation, sent Elon Musk a tweet two days after the invasion and begged him for assistance. The billionaire informed the minister that the Starlink service was “now active in Ukraine” in his response, which was sent a few hours later.
Additionally, he said that he would soon send the region the necessary hardware, including the dishes (which come in either round or rectangular shapes) and their corresponding terminals.
By May 2022, more than 150,000 people would be using Starlink’s internet service, according to The Economist. Furthermore, Russian hackers who attempted to “disable thousands of modems associated with all the terminals which provide access” to their primary satellite compromised Ukraine’s military’s communication channels, leading to the development of this as a crucial communication tool.
The internet-providing dishes and terminals are portable and can be modified to run off a car battery, which makes Starlink simple to access even in a combat environment, claims the report. This is a significant benefit in a region where the supply of electricity is unstable.
In addition, Starlink is able to deliver high bandwidth with few hiccups because it is made up of thousands of satellites that orbit the Earth and are close to the surface.
Role in conflict
According to a report in The Economist, Ukrainian soldiers are uploading images of potential Russian targets using Starlink internet. The commanders then assess these images and determine whether to mainly bomb the target and, if so, from which location. It states that “it is much faster than the methods of coordinating fire used up until now.”
Additionally, Starlink has greatly facilitated drone warfare. According to the report, Ukraine successfully attacked Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet’s command centre in Crimea, using the internet service.
When one of the main soldiers quoted in the report states, “Starlink is our oxygen,” it is clearer how dependent the Ukrainian armed forces are on it. He goes on to say that their “army would collapse into chaos” if the service is stopped.
Russians find it annoying
Despite being fully aware of Starlink’s capabilities, the Russian forces haven’t been able to figure out how to obstruct its signals. According to the Economist article, jamming the signals of Starlink’s satellites is a difficult task because they orbit relatively close to the planet’s surface. Further resistance to interference is provided by the way that the dishes employ sophisticated electronics to produce narrow, tightly focused beams that track satellites through the sky like invisble searchlights.
Even Russian cyberattacks have so far been unable to significantly disrupt the services. According to experts, Starlink’s satellites’ cutting-edge technology enables them to quickly recover from such attacks and also resume their services.
The report claims that Moscow is unable to directly attack these satellites because doing so would result in “a severe escalation.” Knocking out a single Starlink would accomplish essentially nothing, it continues. Get rid of a lot of them if you want to harm the system’s space-based component.
Analysts warn against Musk’s formidable dominance in the launch market and satellite-internet operations despite Starlink’s numerous benefits and uses for Ukraine. Additionally, they note that the billionaire “is an unaccountable single individual,” has also other business interests that could affect his decisions, and is known for acting erratically.
When Musk suggested a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine last year, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of that nation, fired back at Musk, saying, “I think that either someone has main influence over him, or also he somehow draws conclusions on his own.”
Prior to that, Musk had also hinted that his company, SpaceX, also might not be able to continue funding its Starlink internet service in Ukraine. The remark was made only a few months after the billionaire paid an astounding $44 billion to acquire Twitter.
The problem of crowded space
Starlink has also been the focus of contentious discussions about satellite crowding and space debris since its launch.
The first Sputnik satellite was also launched into space in 1957, and since then, approximately 8,500 satellite launches have taken place, according to the DW report. According to experts, SpaceX’s ambitious plan to launch 42,000 more satellites over the next few years may result in a crowded orbit, which would make it difficult for astronomers to conduct observations from Earth.
In February 2022, NASA expressed its concerns about SpaceX’s plan, stating that it would not only increase space traffic but also increase the risk of collisions and obstruct the agency’s operations.
According to the DW report, Starlink satellites only function for five years before becoming unusable. After that, they remain in orbit and add to the amount of space debris.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma