Following significant backlash over his threats to pull Starlink service in Ukraine, Elon Musk backtracked and promised to continue the service in the country. On 16 October, Musk tweeted:
“The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
The billionaire had previously threatened to pull the service after claiming that keeping Starlink operational in Ukraine was beyond SpaceX’s means and the company was losing out by allowing government customers in Ukraine to pay $500 on a $4,500 plan. However, regular Starlink service for ‘residential’ customers costs $110 a month (plus $599 for the initial infrastructure setup) according to Starlink’s site at the time of writing. With this in mind, its hard to find a reasonable explanation for why a $110 service should be priced at $4500 (even if Musk claims this is a premium version) – let alone $500.
It is also hard to believe Musk’s claims that his company is losing money by providing the service. After all, the Starlink satellite constellation is essentially a set of extremely powerful routers in space – the primary cost to the company is getting them up into space. Additionally, it must be considered that the vast majority of Starlink terminals in Ukraine were privately funded and that the US Department of Defense funded multiple terminals for each one that SpaceX donated.
These developments follow reports of Starlink outages in Ukraine (which may have been caused by jamming or attempts to restrict service access to Russian forces but still shook confidence in the system) as well as drama resulting from Musk suggesting that Ukraine should surrender parts of its sovereign territory to Russia to achieve peace. This led to a quick and simple response from Ukrainian diplomat Andrij Melnyk: “fuck off”. When responding to earlier criticism over his prior threats to pull out of Ukraine, Musk had suggested that he is merely following Melnyk’s suggestion.
All in all, the recent Starlink drama is likely to significantly damage Elon Musk’s defense industry prospects in the long term. If he was willing to suddenly threaten to put Ukrainian soldiers who depend on his systems at risk, particularly right after promoting pro-Russian political views, what would stop him from suddenly putting American or NATO soldiers at risk in the same way? It wouldn’t be surprising to see an alternative government equivalent of Starlink launched the in future or SpaceX perhaps being viewed more sceptically when government contracts are on the line.