Ukrainian forces installed Starlink satellite receivers to provide connection to civilians in Independence Square after the Russian army retreated from Kherson to the east bank of the Dnieper River in Ukraine on November 13, 2022.
Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Ukraine’s use of SpaceX’s satellite internet service remains a crucial but controversial part of the country’s fragile infrastructure as Russia’s invasion nears its first year.
Comments from SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell reignited debate last week about how the company’s Starlink hardware and service should be used in the Ukraine conflict – CEO Elon Musk and former top astronaut of NASA, Scott Kelly, to weigh in.
Kelly SATURDAY called on Musk to “restore full functionality to your Starlink satellites.”
“Defending against a genocidal invasion is not an offensive capability. It’s survival,” argued Kelly, whose twin brother, Mark Kelly, is a Democratic U.S. senator from Arizona.
In a pair of replies on Sunday, Musk tweeted that “Starlink is the backbone of Ukraine’s communications”, before saying that SpaceX “will not allow the escalation of a conflict that could lead to World War III”.
“We have not exercised our right to disable them,” Musk said. noted in a separate tweet.
The exchange on Twitter came after Shotwell said last week that the company was “really delighted to be able to provide connectivity to Ukraine and help in its fight for freedom”, but she stressed that Starlink “was never intended to be armed”.
“The Ukrainians exploited it unintentionally and not part of any agreement, so we have to work on that at Starlink,” Shotwell said, speaking at a space conference in Washington, DC on Feb. 8.
In a panel discussion after his remarks, Shotwell said Ukraine using Starlink as a communications system “for the military is good.”
“But our intention was never to have them used for offensive purposes,” Shotwell said.
She specifically noted reports of Ukraine using Starlink “on drones.” Ukrainian soldiers described using Starlink to connect drones and identify and destroy enemy targets, the The Times of London reported in March 2022.
“I’m not going to go into detail; there are things we can do to limit their ability to do that…there are things we can do and have done,” Shotwell said.
SpaceX did not respond to CNBC’s request to clarify what those limitations are or if they are still in place. A company spokesperson pointed to Starlink’s US Terms of Service, which outlines changes to SpaceX equipment or service that would violate US export laws.