SpaceX sends more Starlink terminals to Ukraine but experts warn of targeting

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SpaceX is sending another batch of Starlink terminals to Ukraine but experts have warned about potential targeting.

Ukraine has suffered intermittent connectivity as it defends itself from Russia’s invasion of the country. Some of the outages have been the result of damage to telecoms infrastructure itself, while others due to wider power outages.

Within the past few hours, NetBlocks – which tracks network disruptions and shutdowns – posted a particularly concerning update given the extra reprehensible shelling by Russian forces around Ukraine’s nuclear power plants:

Satellite broadband services like Starlink can provide more reliable connectivity during such crises and/or in rural locations. Such capabilities were behind the UK Government’s decision to acquire OneWeb, according to former advisor Dominic Cummings:

Following a Twitter plea from Ukraine’s vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov for assistance, an initial batch of Starlink stations was delivered to the country on 28 February. Ukrainians are said to have achieved speeds of over 200 Mbps with the system.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, said the country will receive another batch of Starlink systems this week after speaking to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk:

One criticism of Starlink’s terminals is that they’re rendered useless during power outages. Musk says that SpaceX is updating the terminal’s software to reduce peak power consumption so that it can be powered from a vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket.

However, Musk has warned that Starlink will be a target for Russian forces as the only communications system consistently available. Musk advised putting light camo over the system’s dish to avoid visual detection and to place it as far away from other people as possible.

Musk’s warning follows an even more dire one from John Scott-Railton, Senior Researcher at University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab project, who said Russia could use Starlink’s uplink transmissions in Ukraine as beacons for airstrikes

Scott-Railton points out that Russia has experience in this area after conducting airstrikes on VSAT terminals in places like Syria. Starlink users in Ukraine need to take care not to put themselves, and those around them, at serious risk.

(Image Credit: SpaceX under CC BY-NC 2.0 license without changes)

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