Elon Musk donates Starlink kits to Ukraine? not so fast

Not all Starlink kits that have been sent to Ukraine are the result of SpaceX and Elon Musk donations. Some of them are paid by an American agency, which also contributes to the financing of transport.

It was right after the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Two days after the invasion, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, appealed to Elon Musk to mobilize Starlink to help his country maintain Internet access.

Response in the wake of the interested party : “ Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals are on the way “. At that time, the American billionaire had the beautiful role: he used his satellite Internet access service for the benefit of Ukrainians and Ukrainians, in the event that fixed and mobile networks fell in the country.

This help is actually useful in the field. In a tweet published on April 7, the vice-minister showed all the interest of his mobile dishes capable of hooking up a satellite signal to provide an Internet connection to the population. And all around the antenna, many people are visible hooking up a Wi-Fi signal with their smartphones.

The village of Ivankiv, kyiv region, just after the occupation by Russia. Electricity and mobile communications have not yet been restored, but Starlink has arrived in time. Residents can finally tell their loved ones that they are alive. Thanks Elon Musk. Your help is invaluable for Ukraine writes Mykhailo Fedorov.

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Deliveries of Starlink kits to Ukraine at the end of February. // Source : Mykhailo Fedorov

But Starlink had hardly spoken about the question of the financing of this aid: are they donations from the company? Is it financed by the personal fortune of Elon Musk, who is a billionaire by the shares he holds in his companies (Tesla, SpaceX)? This question already arose in our columns on February 27, after the activation of Starlink in Ukraine.

The question is not insignificant: after all, Starlink markets each connection kit at a very high price (500 euros at the time, and now 600 following an increase to absorb inflation). In addition, the Internet connection depends on a monthly subscription which is also expensive: the bill reaches 99 euros each month. For SpaceX, it is a shortfall.

Part of the kits are paid for with US public funding

The reality turns out to be more complex and significantly relativizes Starlink’s effort. The Washington Post has indeed discovered the key role played by USAID – the United States Agency for International Development, a structure that is attached to the White House and the State Department. Its role is to steer foreign aid, on behalf of the USA.

It appears that the United States is taking part of the bill. In a statement released on April 5, USAID says it has delivered 5,000 Starlink terminals to the Ukrainian government under a public-private partnership with US aerospace manufacturer SpaceX. But a previous version, withdrawn since, was more talkative.

We learned that a third of these 5,000 kits are funded by USAID (1,333 to be precise), while the rest (3,667) comes from donations from SpaceX – the company behind Starlink.

Previously, USAID purchased another 175 kits, still to transfer them to Ukraine, via an air carrier connecting Los Angeles and Poland. The machines are then transported by road, in trucks. The agency also contributed to the delivery costs, up to $800,000.

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The contents of a Starlink kit. Source: Duncan Rawlinson

These kits were expensive, since each device purchased by USAID was paid for 1,500 dollars (about 1,400 euros). This is far from market prices, but, according to the American press, Starlink provides three months of unlimited connection with these kits – that is to say free. There are also start-up costs. That $1,500 may cover all those expenses.

A USAID spokeswoman said, ” the delivery of Starlink terminals was made possible by a series of stakeholders, whose combined contributions amounted to more than $15 million and facilitated procurement, international flights, ground transportation and satellite internet service 5,000 Starlink terminals. »

The exact contribution of USAID on the financing of this aid to Ukraine is not known, but these elements show that SpaceX did not pay for its various deliveries – there is at least part of the effort that relies on the US budget and therefore, ultimately, on the taxpayer.

For further

Source: Mykhailo Fedorov

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