Elon Musk sent a Starlink satellite Internet service to Ukraine. It seems to help.

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Elon Musk lately challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin to a one-handed fist fight for the future of Ukraine. But the real defense of the besieged country businessman is his efforts to detain Ukrainians by sending Starlink satellite Internet service.

Starlink is a unit of Musk’s space company, SpaceX. The service uses terminals that resemble television dishes equipped with antennas and are usually mounted on roofs to access the Internet via satellite in rural or offline locations.

When war broke out in Ukraine, the country faced threats from Russian cyberattacks and shelling, which had the potential to destroy the Internet, making it necessary to develop a backup plan. So Mykhailo Fedorov, the country’s digital transformation minister, has made a direct request to Musk urging him to send aid. Musk replied only hours later: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals on the way.”

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Ukraine has already received thousands of antennas from Musk companies and European allies, which has proved “very effective”. Fedorov said in an interview with The Washington Post on Friday.

“The quality of the link is excellent,” Fedorov said through a translator, using a Starlink connection from an unknown location. “We use thousands, in the area of ​​thousands, of terminals with new shipments arriving every other day.”

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The use of Starlink as a stopping measure for citizens and the government to stay connected during an invasion is a major test of the relatively new technology, experts say, and could have far-reaching implications for the future of war. The Internet has become an essential tool for communication, staying informed and even operating weapons.

It’s also a test for Musk. The richest man in the world, valued at $ 232 billion according to the Bloomberg The Billionaires Index tends to turn to Twitter for reckless promises and proclamations in the midst of global crises. Earlier this week, Tesla CEO challenged Putin to a battle and continued to promise to use only one hand se Putin timus. And he told Putin he could bring a bear.

He has missed a number of past promises, including making fans for coronavirus patients and efforts to help save Thai children trapped in a cave.

But this time, Fedorov and some experts say he passed. Tesla employees in Europe reportedly assembled systems to help run Starlink in Ukraine, and Fedorov said other European countries had sent Starlink equipment from their own supplies.

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Musk responded to a request for comment on his efforts with Starlink and past efforts, telling The Post to say hello “to your puppeteer Besos😘😘.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) Musk did not respond to a follow-up specifically about his work with Starlink in Ukraine.

SpaceX declined to comment on its work in Ukraine.

Internet disruptions can be caused by power outages or by optical cables cut as a result of peeling, experts said. Starlink technology is used by civilians in attacked areas who have lost internet service, and by government officials. Starlink terminals were also provided to help the country’s technology companies stay online when the war forced them to relocate. The Times of London reports that a Ukrainian unit is using Starlink to tie up its drones attacking Russian troops.

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Starlink has grown rapidly in recent years, surpassing a number of satellite Internet competitors by launching more than 1,000 satellites into space. People can buy the service online for $ 99 a month, plus $ 499 for the equipment, but Starlink warns that it can take six or more months to deliver in some cases.

A person familiar with Starlink’s efforts in Ukraine, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, said there are more than 5,000 terminals in the country.

However, experts said that even a large Starlink network would probably not have enough power to retain an entire country and operate at full speed. But the terminals can serve as a reliable backup because Internet services are faltering. Fedorov said he and his staff have discussions with other European leaders and companies about additional satellite and cellular technologies that could help keep Ukrainians online in the event of major internet outages.

Internet traffic worsened on the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and did not fully recover, according to data monitoring services. But since that initial decline, connectivity has remained fairly stable, with mostly temporary, isolated malfunctions even during heavy Russian shelling.

“There are failures every day, but overall service is coming back,” said Doug Madory, Kentik’s director of Internet analytics, which monitors global data flows.

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Even before Fedorov tweeted at Musk for help, SpaceX was working on a way to get Starlink to Ukraine. President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a speech at the California Institute of Technology this month that the company has been working for several weeks to get regulatory approval to allow the satellites to communicate in Ukraine.

“But then they tweeted,” she said. according to SpaceNews. “That’s our permission.”

Fedorov’s agency is working to bring Starlink terminals to areas where Internet access has been removed, he said. The systems in some cases were used to connect people when cellular networks in the country were overloaded.

Fedorov said he had recently written with Musk and that the technical billionaire had also had a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

There are some concerns that accompany the use of the terminals. Like all satellite communications during a war, Starlink signals could be used to detect the location of the antennas, experts say.

Although it is unclear whether Russia can use the signals to target attacks, Musk has instructed caution on Twitter.

“Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communication system still in operation in some parts of Ukraine, so the likelihood of being targeted is high,” he tweeted. He added that users should turn on the terminal only when necessary and keep it away from people.

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Experts warned that the devices could hand over the locations of Ukrainians to Russian attackers, but that has not been a problem so far, Fedorov said. The devices were usually used in “densely populated areas, where there would be many civilians anyway.”

He said Russian cyberattacks had not yet intensified on the systems.

“They currently seem to be very busy attacking the sites of our towns and villages,” Fedorov said. “I don’t think they’re at that point yet.”

Because Starlink is still relatively new, there is much to learn about how and whether it is feasible to use in conflict zones, say experts in defense and the space industry.

“The answer is that it’s potentially useful, but there’s a lot we don’t know,” said Brian Weeden, Secure World Foundation’s nonprofit space planning program director, pointing to the risk of cyberattacks and the exact needs.

Russians, like many others, have technology capable of finding, blocking, and sometimes capturing many kinds of transmissions. Starlink technology could be a target for these efforts, said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.

“But I think it’s really important for people in Ukraine and areas without connectivity to connect, so it’s about understanding and balancing risk,” he said.

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In Kyiv, one Ukrainian engineer saw the Twitter exchanges between Fedorov and Musk and hurried to assemble a Starlink terminal he had bought months earlier. Oleg Kutkov said he bought a terminal just to disassemble it and replace it – as an engineer, he was curious to see how it works.

But now that Starlink services are enabled in the country, it could actually prove useful, he said. His regular internet service continued to work, but he put the Starlink antenna through his window and turned it on for testing, he said. The speed was really fast.

“Internet connection is really important here in Ukraine,” Kutkov said. “We get a lot of information from social media, from the government and from each other.” Kutkov received so many questions from like-minded people about Starlink that he set up a Facebook group to deal with them. It now has 370 members.

Christian Davenport, Craig Timberg and Joseph Menn contributed to this report.

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