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SpaceX Starlink Service in Ukraine Is an Important Government Asset

Starlink coverage in Kyiv from Starlink.sx.

The terminals will be used by key people who are running the government and resistance.

At 4:04 AM on February 26 Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine requested Starlink service from Elon Musk and at 2:45 PM on the 26th, Elon Musk tweeted “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.” On February 28 at 12:29 PM Fedorov posted a photo of a truck load of terminals. (Kyiv is 10 hours ahead of California).

I don’t know where the terminals had been stored or how they shipped them, but the delivery time was impressive, and twenty-four minutes after the truck arrival was posted, Oleg Kutkov, an engineer, tweeted an OOKLA Speedtest result.

I don’t know how many terminals are in Ukraine now—Elon Musk has promised to send more—or who will get them, but I assume it is a small number—perhaps 100. They will be used by government and army officials who run the government and coordinate the resistance and journalists and communication specialists who report to Ukraine and the world.

Until Starlink satellites are equipped with inter-satellite laser links, terminals will require access to ground stations. I checked for connectivity in Kyiv at two separate times using Mike Puchol’s Starlink tracking Web service and found ground stations in Turkey, Lithuania, and Poland.

Kyiv connects thru satellites (blue) to ground stations (orange).

The first time I checked, there were nine satellites that could reach all three gateways (as shown here), and the second time five could reach two gateways—the Turkish gateway was out of reach.

Does it matter?

In 2009 and 2011, the United States attempted to smuggle satellite Internet terminals into Cuba. The best-known effort was by Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison when he was caught, and the second was an attempt to bring equipment in by a faux surfing film production company with dishes disguised as boogie boards. (If you are curious, I covered both attempts in depth on my blog on the Cuban Internet).

These attempts failed, but if they had succeeded, they would have been drops in the bucket—of little importance to either the US or Cuba.

But Starlink in Ukraine is a very different case because there was no organized opposition in Cuba. These terminals will be used by key people who are running the government and resistance. They will be able to communicate synchronously or asynchronously from wherever they are in Ukraine with each other and the outside world.

Concerns have been raised about the possibility of Russians finding and destroying these terminals using aerial direction finding, but that would be difficult. For one thing, Ukraine is a large country—over 233,000 square miles and the terminals could be switched off when not in use. Furthermore, SpaceX is currently testing roaming in California and Nevada. The Starlink terminals are small and easily moved, and SpaceX should enable roaming in Ukraine. As an added precaution, terminals could be set up a short distance from the people using them.

This is more than a publicity stunt by SpaceX.

Update Mar 02, 2022:

I’ve been sporadically checking the state of connectivity in Kyiv today and have observed between five and nine links to ground stations. I’ve only seen as much as 2 seconds outage once and quality has been always 98 or 99%.

Update Mar 03, 2022:

SpaceX has enabled fixed and mobile roaming in Ukraine and reduced peak power consumption.

Update May 9, 2022:

Survey article on SpaceX Starlink in Ukraine:

  • How Starlink Works
  • Who Brought Starlink to Ukraine?
  • Who Already Uses Starlink in Ukraine?
  • Is Everyone Allowed to Use Starlink in Ukraine?
  • How to Order a Terminal in Ukraine and How Much It Costs
  • How Well Starlink Works in Ukraine
  • How to Connect to Starlink
  • Does It Make Sense to Use Starlink at All?
  • What Will Happen to Starlink in Ukraine After the War?

The article is in Ukrainian, but the Google and Microsoft Translations are perfectly readable.

Update May 12, 2022:

By March 26, 2022, 590 SpaceX Starlink satellite terminals had been transferred to Ukrainian medical and healthcare institutions according to Health Minister Viktor Lyashko.

Update May 25, 2022:

Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine posted a short video saying 150,000 daily users were using over 10,000 Starlink terminals in support of key infrastructure, healthcare, financial institutions, and energy plants as well as providing mobile backhaul in several towns. Fedorov thanks Elon Musk. Pretty Good Publicity.

Update Jun 9, 2022:

A recent Politico story on Starlink in Ukraine showed how quickly SpaceX was able to get their first terminals into and online in Ukraine. The request for terminals and subsequent spectrum access permission took place over twitter—no dealing with regulatory bureaucracy.

USAID bought the first 1,300 Starlink terminals and SpaceX donated 3,600. The service is free.

The invasion occurred on a Thursday. On Friday Elon Musk said he wanted to get Starlink up over Ukraine. By Sunday Starlink was active and on Monday the first five hundred terminals were delivered. By Wednesday, 475 terminals were online.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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