1,300 SpaceX Starlink terminals with Ukraine's military went offline due to funding shortfall: report

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 54 of the company's Starlink internet satellites lifts off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Sept. 18, 2022.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 54 of the company's Starlink internet satellites lifts off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Sept. 18, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Ukraine's space-based communications infrastructure took a serious hit recently due to funding problems, according to media reports.

Ukraine has relied heavily on SpaceX's Starlink satellite-internet constellation throughout the ongoing Russian invasion, which began in February. Starlink service is much harder for an adversary to knock out, after all, than coverage beamed from towers on the ground.

But it costs money to keep harnessing those Starlink signals, and the invasion has seriously depleted the Ukrainian government's coffers. Indeed, 1,300 of the Starlink terminals used by the nation's military went dark two weeks ago thanks to unpaid bills, CNN reported on Monday (Nov. 7).

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"The recent outage started on October 24 and was described by one person briefed on the situation as a 'huge problem' for Ukraine's military," CNN wrote. "The terminals had been disconnected, this person said, due to a lack of funding. "

The 1,300 terminals were purchased from a British company in March, according to CNN. SpaceX was charging the Ukrainian government $2,500 per terminal per month, the outlet added, citing the above unnamed source. 

That's considerably more than the $110 per month that SpaceX charges "normal" Starlink customers but less than another specialty service, Starlink Maritime, which provides coverage to ships at sea for $5,000 per month.

Ukraine's defense department saw the outage coming and attempted to prevent it, asking British military officials in early October if they could start footing the bill. But the British ultimately decided to steer its Ukraine aid in other directions, according to CNN.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk recently said that there are about 25,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine. It's unclear how many of them are owned by the Ukrainian government, but it may well be a minority; in July, the nation's commander in chief wrote a letter to Musk stating that just 4,000 terminals had been deployed by the military, according to CNN.

SpaceX has long been subsidizing the costs of Starlink service in Ukraine, according to Musk. Last month, for example, the billionaire tweeted that SpaceX is losing about $20 million per month on Starlink in Ukraine "due to unpaid service & costs related to enhanced security measures for cyberwar defense."

In September, SpaceX asked the U.S. military to start footing some of that bill, CNN previously reported. That apparently hasn't happened, but talks to that effect are ongoing, CNN reported in Monday's story, citing a senior Pentagon official.

"Negotiations are very much underway. Everyone in our building knows we're going to pay them," the official told CNN. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.