Sunday, March 27, 2022

Five thousand SpaceX Starlink terminals for Ukraine

Starlink terminals at the Lviv IT Cluster
On March 1, I wrote that a small number of SpaceX Starlink terminals had arrived in Ukraine, and they would be an important asset for distribution to selected government and resistance leaders and journalists. I didn't know who would get the terminals or how many there were, but it was a single truckload. A week or so later, we learned that two more shipments of terminals had arrived and fifty of them went to DTEK, a company struggling to repair Ukrainian electrical infrastructure. However, as far as I knew, it was still a small number of terminals.

That changed on March 19 when the Washington Post reported that "A person familiar with Starlink’s effort in Ukraine, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said there are more than 5,000 terminals in the country." We'd seen pictures of three truckloads before, but this was a whole new level. Enough for armed forces, infrastructure companies like DTEK, NGOs, and government leaders.

I am speculating, but I think those 5,000 terminals may have been purchased in a joint project of SpaceX and Lviv_IT_Cluster, a community of over 180 leading information technology companies, authorities, and educational institutions employing over 25,000 IT experts that appears well on the way to achieving the goal of making Lviv the technological center of Eastern Europe. 

On March 22, Lviv IT Cluster announced they had purchased a large number of Starlink terminals, and the first batch had arrived in Lviv. By March 26, they were distributing terminals to critical infrastructure providers.

Lviv IT Cluster says these terminals were not contributed but were purchased at a "most-favorable" rate and while the number of terminals was not disclosed it is "sufficient to support critical and military infrastructure as well as IT business in Western Ukraine."  The terminals will not be resold, but "will be handed over to strategically important enterprises and institutions such as electric utilities, medical system, rescue services, security system, power grids, transport hubs, government agencies, and much more."

I'm impressed by the speed of delivery of this aid to Ukraine as well as its scope. Terminals were delivered to Lviv, in western Ukraine and distributed to users a few weeks after an email exchange between Lviv IT Cluster CEO Stepan Veselovskyi and Elon Musk. 

Niels Groeneveld has compiled a list of fourteen types of military aid that have been provided to Ukraine by twenty-seven nations. I would add Starlink terminals to the list.

Update 3/28/2022

Aerorozvidka, a specialist air reconnaissance unit within the army that was created by model plane enthusiasts in 2014, has been picking off tanks, command trucks, and vehicles carrying electronic equipment since the invasion began. They rely on Starling for secure communication and "strike at night when Russians sleep ... we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition.” They also have bomb-equipped drones. 

Hundreds of civilian drone fliers using public communication channels have also been mobilized. I bet Putin didn't plan on that.

Identifying targets using drones with night-vision cameras

Russian tanks, stranded after the destruction of Russian supply trucks

Update 4/8/2022

Here is an example of citizens using a Starlink terminal when the terrestrial Internet is unavailable. When the Russians retreated from a town near Kyiv, electricity and mobile communications were down, but residents were able to communicate through this Starlink terminal with its Wi-Fi router.

Update 4/10/2022

On April 5, The US Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that SpaceX donated "roughly $10 million" worth of 3,667 Starlink terminals and associated internet service to Ukraine. 5,000 terminals were delivered in total, with USAID buying "the additional 1,333 terminals." That press release was replaced the following day with a release omitting the details and simply saying 5,000 terminals had been delivered. This article adds more details.
I asked SpaceX and USAID if these were the same 5,000 terminals described in this post but got no answer.

Update 4/20/2022

Nexta_TV reports that there are 10,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine. If that is the case, the 5,000 terminals described in this post and the 5,000 terminals attributed to USAID & SpaceX were separate shipments.

Update 4/22/2022

Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine has confirmed that there are now 10,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine. An unspecified number of them have been given to the Army and others are being used to maintain the operation of critical energy and telecommunications facilities, in health care facilities, and even in agriculture. This announcement was also reported here.

Update 6/9/2022

In an all-hands company presentation, Elon Musk said there were now 15,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine, and as of May 2, Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine said there were about 150.000 daily Starlink users. I wonder how many there are now.

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