From rocket engines to Earth-observing satellites to the ISS, seemingly no element of space has been spared from rapidly rising geopolitical and off-world tensions between Russia and the West. LEO internet megaconstellations in buildout phase are no exception to this rule.
Let’s start with OneWeb. Russia sought assurances that OneWeb internet satellites wouldn’t be used for military purposes, with the additional request that the UK sell its stake in OneWeb. The UK flat-out rejected calls to divest its OneWeb stake.
A Soyuz was sitting on the launchpad at the Baikonur complex in Kazakhstan with 36 OneWeb satellites. The rocket won’t launch today. And the Soyuz-OneWeb duo won’t be launching again any time soon.
- Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin told a Russian TV channel that the launch scheduled for today wouldn’t happen unless OneWeb and Arianespace agreed to a legally binding pact that states the satellites won’t be used for military purposes.
Now, on to SpaceX
Starlink is also in the crosshairs. “When Russia implements its highest national interests on the territory of Ukraine, @elonmusk appears with his Starlink which was previously declared as purely civilian,” Rogozin told RT. On Wednesday night, Musk countered with a cheeky tweet.
Yesterday, Musk shared updates that SpaceX was shipping to make Starlink service more flexible for Ukrainian users. Use of these terminals does not come without risk…
- As security researcher John Scott-Railton cautioned last Friday, “uplink transmissions [could] become beacons… for airstrikes.”
- Musk himself also issued a warning yesterday, saying: “Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution.”
Satellite broadband systems have taken on a “dual-use” designation in this conflict. Dual-use = a technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.