March 29, Ukrainian troops rolled into the shattered streets of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, strewn with black debris and bodies. The sabotage took all 24 cell towers in the city offline, leaving traumatized survivors unable to let relatives and friends know they were safe. “Most of these base stations were severely damaged,” said Kostyantyn Naumenko, head of planning and development of the radio access network for Vodafone Ukraine’s cellular network. Just two days later, with the help of Elon Musk, the city was back online.
Irpin reconnects on March 31 after Vodafone Ukraine engineers arrived with a circular white satellite dish that the makers of the antenna call Dishy McFlatface, the Starlink satellite internet service terminal from Musk’s SpaceX . Engineers mounted the receiver and its motorized base to a mobile base station on the edge of Irpin, which had its fiber-optic connection and power cut, and a generator attached. Hours later, the city was back online, as were the remaining residents. “The first thing they did was call relatives to say they were all right,” Namenko said.
The speed with which Irpin was brought back online shows the ingenuity of the engineers involved and the flexibility with which the Ukrainian government uses Starlink terminals. Since the Russian invasion, the country has received more than 10,000 devices, thanks in part to U.S. government funding and other help. The terminals have become central to the country’s response to the war, both civilian and military.
The rapid, widespread deployment of Starlink in Ukraine is also an unplanned experiment in the potential geopolitical power of next-generation satellite internet services. If SpaceX or a similar provider wants to, high-speed internet from the sky could be a powerful way to connect people or populations suffering from war poverty or authoritarian governments. “In Ukraine, the fact that you can see Starlink and other constellations right away means you have an opportunity to have a resilient system that is immune to traditional ground attack or control,” said Rose Croshier, a policy researcher at the Center for Global Development, a Ukraine-based think tank. Washington DC. SpaceX did not respond to inquiries about its work in Ukraine or whether it might offer Starlink in other conflict zones or places with limited internet access.
Since 2019, SpaceX has launched more than 2,000 Starlink satellites and provides internet service to most of Europe, parts of Central and South America, New Zealand and southern Australia. It is the most mature of three projects, including one from Amazon, to create a new generation of high-speed internet services using a large number of small satellites in low Earth orbit.
But it wasn’t the war that brought Starlink to Ukraine, it was the service’s potential to improve connectivity in a country with vast rural areas. Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation first got in touch with SpaceX months before the war, said Anton Melnyk, an adviser to the department. Starlink executives spoke with Ukraine’s digital minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, about enabling the service at the end of February. A few days later, Russia invaded, and Musk’s service became attractive for a different reason.
Fedorov two days after the Russian invasion A request for a Starlink terminal was posted on Musk. Ten hours later, SpaceX’s CEO confirmed that Starlink’s service was “active” in Ukraine.Just two days later, on February 28, Fedorov released a high stack of trucks Using the Starlink box, he unboxes Dishy himself.