By Emma Tucker, Melissa Alonso and Jackie Wattles, CNN
A shipment of Starlink user terminals — small antennas that allow customers to access SpaceX’s satellite-based internet service — arrived in Ukraine Monday, providing a back stop for Ukrainians who may see their traditional service interrupted amid the Russian invasion.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced Saturday that he had activated Starlink internet service in Ukraine as the country suffered power outages and gaps in internet service due to Russia’s invasion. Musk also promised at the time that more were “en route.”
The support from SpaceX arrived after Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, who is also Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tweeted a plea to Musk over the weekend: “while you try to colonize Mars — Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space — Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people! We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.”
Fedorov shared a photo of the Starlink terminals as they arrived in Ukraine and tweeted his thanks to Musk.
“You are most welcome,” the SpaceX CEO replied.
Starlink is a satellite-based internet constellation intended to blanket the planet in high-speed broadband and could potentially bring connectivity to billions of people who still lack reliable internet access. Satellite-based internet has long provided a crucial backstop to land-based internet service, as it can remain active even when infrastructure on the ground is ravaged by war or natural disasters. It can also reach areas where ground-based infrastructure has yet to be installed. However, satellite internet traditionally had a reputation for spotty and slow connections.
Starlink, however, makes use of satellites that operate in low-Earth orbit — roughly 340 miles high, in SpaceX’s case — to provide continuous coverage, allowing for much faster upload and download speeds. Starlink, which SpaceX has worked to rapidly deploy over the past couple of years, had about 145,000 users in 25 countries as of January.
SpaceX has already launched about 2,000 Starlink satellites and aims to launch thousands more to continue blanketing the planet in internet connectivity.
The Twitter exchange between Musk and Fedorov took place as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s deterrence forces, which includes nuclear arms, to be placed on high alert. Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Evgeny Yenin said talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations will take place Monday morning.
There have been “intermittent” power outages in Ukraine, but the internet is still “generally available,” a senior US defense official told reporters Saturday.
The Starlink system was recently used in Tonga, in the South Pacific Ocean, to provide internet service to connect remote villages following the eruption of an underwater volcano in January, according to SpaceX. The eruption was likely the biggest recorded anywhere on the planet in more than 30 years, CNN reported.
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CNN’s Ellie Kaufman and Helen Regan contributed to this report.