In brief: Elon Musk has seemingly backtracked on his claim that SpaceX cannot keep funding Starlink in Ukraine indefinitely. The CEO now says the company will continue paying for the service and providing terminals to the country's government.
SpaceX has supplied around 25,000 Starlink ground terminals to Ukraine since the war began. Musk says this has cost the company $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year. Additionally, SpaceX must create, launch, maintain and replenish satellites and ground stations, and pay telcos for access to the Internet via gateways, all of which costs close to $20 million per month. Musk also noted that the terminals have data usage 100x greater than typical households.
According to a CNN report, SpaceX's director of government sales sent a letter to the Pentagon last month warning that it cannot supply more Starlink satellites and indefinitely fund existing ones in Ukraine. It estimates the costs could reach almost $380 million over the next 12 months and wants the US government to foot the bill.
SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2022
Musk seemed to confirm the letter's authenticity in a series of tweets. He noted that competitors such as Lockheed Martin & Boeing received billions of dollars in government contracts for their services. He also referenced Ukraine's outgoing ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, who told Musk he should "F**k off" over his controversial Ukraine peace plan poll, stating, "We're just following his recommendation."
The Pentagon confirmed that it had been discussing payments with Starlink to ensure connectivity for Ukrainian forces. It's also been looking at potential alternatives. "There's not just SpaceX, there are other entities that we can certainly partner with when it comes to providing Ukraine with what they need on the battlefield," said Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.
But a day after his tweets, Musk changed his stance, likely due to the backlash. "The hell with it," the billionaire wrote on Twitter. "Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we'll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free."
The comments in this thread are a conspiracy theorist's wet dream— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 16, 2022
The SpaceX letter to CNN states that about 85% of the 20,000 terminals in Ukraine were paid or partially paid for by countries like the US, Poland, and the UK. These entities also paid for about 30% of the internet connectivity.
"I have not seen ANY Starlink which was bought by the governments, or by SpaceX. All the Starlinks I have seen/used – were bought either by volunteers like myself, or soldiers put their personal money in. The subscription price is also paid out of pocket," wrote Dimko Zhluktenko, the founder of the Ukrainian military charity Dzyga's Paw (via The Guardian).
Earlier today, Musk said SpaceX would be adding a donate option to Starlink for those who want to donate its hardware and services to places in need.
Ok, we will add a donate option to Starlink— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 17, 2022