Elon Musk Says SpaceX Can No Longer Foot The Bill For Starlink In Ukraine

As Ukraine engages in a bloody war with Russia that has seen the destruction of networking infrastructure, Elon Musk's SpaceX deployed its Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine in February to help with critical on-the-ground communication. Now, the company says it can no longer afford to pay for Starlink services in Ukraine and is looking to offload the expenses to the U.S. government.

Musk shared on Twitter that the company has spent over $80 million so far, and by the end of 2022, the cost of maintaining some 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine will exceed the $100 million mark. Documents obtained by CNN suggest that SpaceX has asked the U.S. military to pump millions of dollars each month to assist the company, lest it risk shutting down the Starlink internet infrastructure in the warn-torn country.

The costs could balloon up to $400 million within the next 12 months, according to SpaceX, which reportedly wrote in a letter to the Pentagon that it can't "fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time." Interestingly, of the 20,000 units that are currently operational in the country, roughly 85% were reportedly paid (partially, or in full) by the U.S. and other diplomatic allies, and they also foot 30% of the internet bills.

High usage, expensive maintenance

The costs of maintaining Starlink infrastructure don't simply come down to beaming internet from the satellites floating in the low-Earth orbit. As Musk explained in one of his tweets, data usage by civilians as well as military personnel in Ukraine is "up to 100X greater than typical households." Explaining the logic behind high expenses that are inching close to $20 million per month, Musk explained in another tweet that aside from just providing internet services, SpaceX "also had to defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder." 

Musk's response has drawn mixed reactions, with some classifying the demand for financial assistance from the U.S. government as a reasonable request, while others targeted the billionaire's savior attitude merely months after he was hailed as a hero for Ukraine. As funding emerges as a tangible issue, Reuters reports that the Ukrainian President is seeking "a solution to keep the Starlink internet service working in Ukraine."

The world's richest man, who claims to be in touch with high-ranking Ukrainian officials, has reportedly assured them Starlink will continue to stay operational in the country. The funding revelations surfaced online days after Musk asked a series of questions on Twitter regarding the Ukraine-Russia conflict and received widespread criticism for it.