What measures are SpaceX taking to keep Starlink operational over Ukraine?

Elon Musk says the "probability of being targeted is high".
Chris Young
The view from a Starlink satellite.Wikimedia/SpaceX

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is devastating the country's infrastructure, disrupting internet access for civilians who are fighting to stay alive.

On Saturday, Ukraine's vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Elon Musk to provide Starlink internet satellite coverage for the country, a request that the SpaceX CEO duly obliged.

As a report by LiveScience points out, a subsequent exchange between Musk and Fedorov has provided pointers as to how citizens can keep their internet working amid continued attacks against Ukraine's infrastructure.

Fedorov explained that generators are needed to keep the satellite dishes required by Starlink users functioning on the ground, as Russian attacks have left large parts of Ukraine without electricity. Musk pointed out another suggestion. In a tweet, he said, "Solar panels + battery pack better than generator, as no heat signature or smoke & doesn't run out of fuel."

Fedorov thanked Musk and pointed out that Starlink will "help to save a lot of lives" by allowing communication between families and emergency services.

Starlink could save lives, but its users may also be at risk

In describing the heat signature of generators, Musk drew attention to the real possibility that Starlink internet users might be targeted by Russian attacks. In a separate tweet, he wrote that the probability of users being targeted was high and that anyone should use the service with caution.

Musk also advised users to "turn on Starlink only when needed and place antenna away as far away from people as possible" as well as "place light camouflage over antenna to avoid visual detection."

One user on Twitter asked whether Starlink users might also be at risk of a cyberattack, to which he replied: "Almost all Viasat Ukraine user terminals were rendered permanently unusable by a Russian cyberattack on day of invasion, so… yes." 

The SpaceX CEO has also stated that the space company was also updating its Starlink software to lower peak power consumption, which should enable Starlink satellite dishes to be powered using car cigarette lighters. Potentially, this could mean users could drive around, staying in each location for a short time, meaning they would be at less of a risk of having their exact location pinpointed by attackers.

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