SpaceX Asks Pentagon to Take Over Paying for Starlink in Ukraine: Report

With over 20,000 Starlink kits donated to Ukraine for satellite internet, SpaceX has helped the nation that’s under attack from Russia stay connected, amid communication networks being destroyed in the country.

Now, according to leaked documents obtained by CNN, SpaceX is asking the U.S. government to take over paying for Starlink satellite internet in Ukraine, referring to both internet dishes and also monthly service.

SpaceX says it will cost over $120 million to keep Starlink in Ukraine for the rest of the year, while the next 12 months may cost nearly $400 million, say the documents.

CEO Elon Musk reacted to the CNN story on late Thursday night by replying to @SawyerMerritt, “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.”

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” said SpaceX’s director of government sales in a letter to the Pentagon, back in September.

Ukraine’s military’s commanding general, General Valerii Zaluzhniy, asked Musk directly for almost 8,000 more Starlink terminals back in July. A consultant for SpaceX added, “SpaceX faces terribly difficult decisions here. I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General Zaluzhniy,” said the separate included letter.

Zaluzhniy’s July letter to Musk said roughly 500 Starlink dishes are destroyed every month by Russian attacks. The general then asked for 6,200 more Starlink terminals, plus 500 more per month, moving forward to offset ongoing losses.

SpaceX told Zaluzhniy in response to send his request to the U.S. Department of Defense.

SpaceX later wrote to the DoD on September 8, indicating costs were getting too high in Ukraine, nearing $100 million. The DoD was asked to pay for Zaluzhniy’s request, plus ongoing Starlink service costs, pegged at $124 million for the rest of 2022.

The letter from SpaceX to the Pentagon says roughly 85% of the 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine were paid for, or partially paid for by the U.S., Poland or other groups, which also covered 30% of the internet cost. SpaceX says it costs $4,500 per month for each Starlink dish to operate with the fastest service.

Musk recently said there are now roughly 25,000 Starlink dishes in Ukraine. 

There were some Starlink outages in Ukraine recently, with the military relying on the satellite internet for communications, plus flying drones for recon in combat areas.

Musk further responded to the CNN story tonight by saying, “strange that nothing was leaked about our competitors in space launch & communications, Lockheed & Boeing, who get over $60 [billion].”

“Wouldn’t be surprised to find this particular individual working there when he retires from DoD. Corruption at its finest,” said Musk, in response to Merritt’s listing of the top biggest U.S. defense government contracts.

Musk also added later, “Also, Starlink is still losing money! It is insanely difficult for a [low Earth orbit] communications constellation to avoid bankruptcy – that was the fate of every company that tried this before.”

“When asked what the goal of Starlink was at a space conference, I said “not go bankrupt”,” said Musk.

Musk wasn’t done there. He added, “In addition to terminals, we have to create, launch, maintain & replenish satellites & ground stations & pay telcos for access to Internet via gateways.”

“We’ve also had to defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder. Burn is approaching ~$20 [million]/month,” said Musk.

Elon also later replied that its Falcon 9 rocket “can probably get Starlink past breakeven,” however, “Starship is needed to fund Mars.”