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Starlink - Battle of the Satellites

You can hardly avoid it if you want to quickly implement satellite internet. Elon Musk's company Starlink is 'all-powerful in space' (Volkskrant). Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant wrote an extensive article on the situation and the possible dangers and alternatives, for which they interviewed several experts, including Tanja Masson Zwaan, assistant professor of Air and Space Law.

Starlink, with 4,500 satellites, owns the vast majority of satellites in space. Musk's desire is to eventually expand this fleet to 42,000. Making it very difficult to keep up with him, but that is something we should really be doing. At the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian military was offered thousands of free Starlink satellite dishes by Musk to support them in the fight against Russia. But when costs became too high for Musk, he indiscriminately restricted the Ukrainian army's access, leading to a ‘catastrophic loss of communications’ (Volkskrant). 

Musk once again demonstrated which dangerously powerful position he holds in this conflict when he disconnected Ukrainian underwater drones because he disagreed with the attack Ukraine wanted to carry out, fearing a nuclear counterattack from Russia. As a result, the underwater drones lost connection with satellites and could not do any damage to the Russian fleet.

Starlink was well within its rights according to the United Nations space treaty, which does not mention anything about launching large numbers of satellites (Volkskrant). 'The treaty leaves the regulation of private spaceflight to its member states,' says Tanja Masson-Zwaan. 'Starlink is based in the US, the land of the free market, which grants licences much faster than, say, the Netherlands would.'

And despite the fact that it was clearly an abuse of power on Musk's part, Ukraine is not likely to oppose Musk. Ukraine is dependent on Starlink to the extent that they would probably prefer not to upset Musk. 'Ukraine's reliance on Starlink was a wake-up call for the EU,' says Tanja Masson-Zwaan. The EU and China have already announced plans to increase their own network of internet satellites, as a result of this abuse of power. 

But anyone who wants to compete with Musk will have to launch an increasing number of increasingly bigger satellites. (Volkskrant)

Image by Forest Katsch via Unsplash.

More information

You can read the full article (in Dutch) on the website of de Volkskrant.

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