SpaceX no longer wants to offer Starlink for free in Ukraine. Asks US authorities to take over bill payments

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elon Musk promised Ukrainian forces Starlink satellite internet systems from SpaceX so they could stay online despite attacks on their internet infrastructure. But now Elon Musk’s company is asking the US Department of Defense to pick up the cost of operating these devices and financially support the purchase of new units if they are needed in the future.

Elon Musk could turn off free internet via Starlink offered to Ukrainians

According to CNN, the company sent a letter to the US Department of Defense announcing that “SpaceX is no longer in a position to donate more terminals to Ukraine, or to support the funding of existing terminals for an indefinite period of time.” Thus, SpaceX would like to stop offering satellite internet for free to Ukrainian forces, asking the US authorities to pick up the “bills”.

SpaceX has so far provided about 25,000 Starlink devices to troops, civilians, NGOs and government agencies in Ukraine. This has kept them connected to the internet despite the ongoing war. But it seems even charity has its limits at Elon Musk’s company. The Pentagon has been asked to pay for new units to be sent to Ukraine, as well as the cost of keeping the connections active. Estimates are about $124 million for internet access for the next few months of the year and about $380 million for all subscriptions for 12 months of connection. The costs incurred by SpaceX so far have amounted to $80 million, Elon Musk previously said.

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The billionaire says SpaceX is not now trying to recoup money already spent on the operation, only that it cannot indefinitely offer free internet to Ukrainians. Some terminals in Ukraine have data usage 100 times higher than that of a typical household connected to the internet.

The decision could be influenced by a row with Ukraine’s ambassador to the US

Along with these statements, Musk also revealed that the Starlink business is not yet profitable. Every month, SpaceX loses $20 million. The reason would be that not only terminals need to be produced and delivered to customers, but also new satellites that require launch into orbit. On top of that, there are the costs of connecting to other networks, as well as the costs of protecting against cyber attacks.

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Musk also suggests that the decision could be a personal one, after the Ukrainian ambassador to the US told the billionaire “to fuck off”. This message followed Musk’s statements suggesting Ukrainians give up Crimea and other Russian-occupied regions.

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