SpaceX limits Ukraine’s military use of Starlink satellite business
Executive Gwynne Shotwell says firm didn’t intend for communications network to be weaponized
SpaceX has taken steps to limit Ukraine’s use of the company’s satellite-internet connections for military purposes, a top executive at the Elon Musk-founded company said Wednesday.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said SpaceX had worked to restrict the country from using Starlink, as the company’s satellite-internet business is called, for military purposes.
Starlink, which provides high-speed broadband, isn’t designed to be used for offensive or defensive military operations, according to user documents. Ms. Shotwell reiterated that point in explaining why SpaceX had added the limits in Ukraine.
"There are things that we can do and have done," she told reporters after an appearance at a space-industry event. She declined to discuss details.
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Starlink has played a high-profile role in Ukraine’s continuing conflict with Russia.
Ms. Shotwell said that the Ukrainian military’s use of Starlink for typical communications purposes was permitted, and that the high-speed internet the business offers also helped with humanitarian relief, linking families and hospitals.
In September, Mr. Musk said in a tweet that Starlink was designed for peaceful uses only. The terms of service for Starlink state the internet connections it makes possible aren’t for military engagements.
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"Starlink is not designed or intended for use with or in offensive or defensive weaponry or other comparable end-uses," the Starlink terms of service document says.
Ms. Shotwell, at the event on Wednesday, echoed those points, saying that Starlink was "never intended to be weaponized" and that Ukraine had used it in ways that weren’t part of any agreement.
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"You offer a commercial product to provide connectivity to people, which is helpful in conflict, but you also want to be careful of how they use it," she said.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday on Twitter that companies had to decide whether they were on Ukraine’s side or Russia’s, and that SpaceX and Ms. Shotwell should choose.
A SpaceX spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the post.
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Ms. Shotwell said SpaceX became aware of news reports about Starlink being used in Ukraine on drones.
Russian officials said in October that the country could target U.S. commercial satellites if they were used to help Ukraine. Mr. Musk said last May on Twitter that Starlink had resisted Russian cyberwar and hacking attempts.