SpaceX activates nearly 100 Starlinks in Iran amid country-wide protests: report

Starlink satellite in orbit.
An illustration of a SpaceX Starlink internet satellite in orbit. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

As Iran reaches 100 days of civil unrest, SpaceX has deployed nearly 100 Starlinks in the region.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted "approaching 100 Starlinks active in Iran" on Monday (opens in new tab) (Dec. 26) in response to a tweet showing women walking outdoors in Iran with their hair uncovered, which is technically forbidden under the country's restrictive regime.

Musk, who is also owner of Twitter, pledged in September to activate Starlink in Iran "to advance internet freedom and the free flow of information" to Iranians, according to Reuters (opens in new tab). There are approximately 3,300 operational Starlinks in orbit and SpaceX is preparing to boost service with a more powerful "Gen2" set that could launch before 2022 concludes.

"The satellite-based broadband service could help Iranians circumvent the government's restrictions on accessing the Internet and certain social media platforms," Reuters added in the report on Monday.

Related: 10 weird things about SpaceX's Starlink satellites

The protests are not the first to erupt in Iran recently; other demonstrations engulfed the country in 2017-2018 and in November 2019, according to BBC (opens in new tab). But the news service terms these new protests as unique, saying people from all levels of society (including Iranian celebrities) are involved to an unprecedented extent.

The 100-plus days of protests are also the longest streak of anti-government unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the BBC said. The country is currently ruled as an Islamic republic and after the revolution, the constitution included a clergy-dominated system overseeing the executive, parliament and judiciary branches of the government, according to Britannica (opens in new tab).

While the roots of the protests are complex, Reuters states that they in part came about due to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. Amini was arrested due to wearing "unsuitable attire" in public. Media reports widely state that Amini chose not to wear the hijab, which is a mandatory head covering for women in Iran after they reach the age of puberty.

Starlinks were also deployed in 2022 in Ukraine after that country was invaded by Russia in February, an act that tore most space partnerships with other countries apart. Musk briefly threatened to withdraw the service in Ukraine due to cost this fall, but continues to offer Starlink Internet there to this day.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace