A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 9, 2022

Despite Musk Donation Claim, US Gov Is Paying For Ukraine Starlink

After taking public credit for giving Ukraine with Starlink terminals for internet access, it turns out that the US government is actually paying for them to be provided as well as assuring their delivery. 

The world's wealthiest man wouldn't pay for them himself, eh, Elon? JL 

Cristiano Lima reports in the Washington Post:

The company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk replied to online fanfare. But according to documents, the U.S. federal government is paying millions of dollars for a significant portion of the equipment and for transportation costs to get it to Ukraine. (And) USAID has purchased1,330 terminals from SpaceX to send to Ukraine.

After Russia launched its invasion, Ukrainian officials pleaded for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to dispatch their Starlink terminals to the region to boost Internet access. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route,” Musk replied to broad online fanfare.

Since then, the company has cast the actions in part as a charitable gesture. “I’m proud that we were able to provide the terminals to folks in Ukraine,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said at a public event last month, later telling CNBC, “I don’t think the U.S. has given us any money to give terminals to the Ukraine.”

But according to documents obtained by The Technology 202, the U.S. federal government is in fact paying millions of dollars for a significant portion of the equipment and for the transportation costs to get it to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it has purchased more than 1,330 terminals from SpaceX to send to Ukraine, while the company donated nearly 3,670 terminals and the Internet service itself.

While the agency initially called it a “private sector donation valued at roughly $10 million,” it did not specify how much it is contributing for the equipment or for the cost of transportation.

Sometime after the announcement, the agency removed key details from its release. It now states that USAID “has delivered 5,000 Starlink Terminals” to Ukraine “through a public-private partnership” with SpaceX but does not specify the quantity nor value of the donations.

USAID agreed to purchase closer to 1,500 standard Starlink terminals for $1,500 apiece and to pay an additional $800,000 for transportation costs, documents show, adding up to over $3 million in taxpayer dollars paid to SpaceX for the equipment sent to Ukraine.

In a letter to SpaceX last month outlining the deal, the USAID mission director to Ukraine said the terminals would be “procured” and sent on behalf of USAID by a third-party contractor, which would “arrange for transportation and delivery of the equipment” from Los Angeles International Airport to Ukraine via Poland.

The letter said the nearly 3,670 terminals donated by SpaceX would come with three months of “unlimited data.” In addition to the more than 1,330 terminals that USAID confirmed it had purchased, the agency earlier agreed to buy a separate 175 units from SpaceX, according to the documents.


On Thursday, USAID spokesperson Rebecca Chalif said in a statement that the “delivery of Starlink terminals were made possible by a range of stakeholders, whose combined contributions valued over $15 million and facilitated the procurement, international flights, ground transportation, and satellite Internet service of 5,000 Starlink terminals.”

The agency declined to answer questions about how much USAID funding is going toward buying and transporting equipment for Ukraine, referring them to SpaceX. SpaceX did not return a request for comment on the arrangement and the specific financials of the deal.

It is also unclear whether the price the U.S. government is paying for individual Starlink units matches their typical market price.

USAID is paying $1,500 for each standard terminal and the accompanying service, documents show. According to the Starlink website, a standard terminal set costs $600, while the monthly service charge costs $110, plus an additional $100 for shipping and handling.

According to The Verge, Starlink recently unveiled a separate premium service that prices the equipment at $2,500 and the monthly Internet charge at $500, but it remains unclear whether that is what Ukraine has received. SpaceX did not return a request for comment on the pricing.

The revelations show that while SpaceX appears to have donated a significant sum to Ukraine’s cause, it has done so with public assistance.

The United States and other countries have paid to send much of the known equipment to Ukraine. The transportation costs USAID has paid to ship the 5,000 terminals exceeds $800,000, according to the documents. French officials confirmed they also helped with transportation.

The office of the French state secretariat for digital affairs Cédric O told my colleague Rick Noack that SpaceX “transported 200 Starlink satellite kits, bound for the Ukrainian authorities, via cargo plane to Poland.” The office said that while they “provided logistics and transport,” they did not purchase the equipment, which was a donation from SpaceX.


Shotwell, the SpaceX president, had told CNBC that “France helped” and “I think Poland is helping.” The Polish Embassy did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Ukrainian officials have lauded the SpaceX contributions and credited the Starlink equipment with helping to keep their Internet online during the war.

“We are using thousands, in the area of thousands, of terminals with new shipments arriving every other day,” Mykhailo Fedorov, the Ukrainian minister of digital transformation, told my colleagues in an interview last month, using a Starlink connection from an undisclosed location.

His office did not return a request for comment Thursday on exactly how many terminals have been donated by SpaceX and other sources, including foreign governments.


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