Ukraine Has Been Using Elon Musk’s Satellites And Russia Is Not Happy About It


Few people were thinking about a war in Ukraine when SpaceX began launching its constellation of Starlink satellites into space in 2019. The Starlink fleet, which now numbers more than 2,300, is designed to provide broadband connection to underserved parts of the world. Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the Ukrainian army has been making use of the satellites for battlefield communications.

As Ars Technica, Reuters, and others report, this has left the Russians none-too-pleased. In a statement on Oct. 26, Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement, making a barely-veiled threat to shoot the satellites down if their military use continues.

“Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation,” Vorontsov said, condemning what he called “an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies.”

There is a certain disingenuousness in Vorontsov’s remarks, since the U.S. Department of Defense has long made use of commercial satellites to carry military communications, which Russia certainly knows. But direct involvement in a Russian ground war is a different matter—at least in the eyes of the Kremlin.

The bad news: Russia certainly has the ability to shoot down a satellite, as it demonstrated as recently as last November, when it launched a missile from the ground at one of its own satellites, blasting it into what NASA estimated to be 1,500 pieces.

The better news: such a single-strike attack would have little impact on as distributed a network as Starlink, and even Russia doesn’t pretend it is going to launch thousands of missiles to bring the whole constellation down.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can sign up here.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.



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