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Fact Checking Claims That the U.S. Government Paid for Starlink Systems for Ukraine
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Fact Checking Claims That the U.S. Government Paid for Starlink Systems for Ukraine

The government has paid for some, but not all, of the terminals delivered.

A recent viral tweet suggests that Elon Musk’s donation of Starlink systems to Ukraine was paid for by the U.S. government.

The tweet came after Musk claimed that his company SpaceX lost $80 million donating Starlink terminals to Ukraine. 

Starlink is a satellite system created by Musk’s company SpaceX that provides internet without the traditional cables, instead transmitting wireless internet from satellites to ground receivers. The Ukrainian military has relied on Starlink to coordinate its troops even as the Russian military has damaged internet and communications infrastructure in the country. In June, Musk said that SpaceX had delivered 15,000 Starlink units to Ukraine.

Numbers on the finances are hard to come by, but the U.S. government has paid for at least a portion of these terminals—documents analyzed by the Washington Post show that the United States Agency for International Development purchased more than 1,330 Starlink terminals and paid for their transportation along with the transportation of 3,670 terminals donated by SpaceX. USAID paid $1,500 apiece for terminals SpaceX retails for $600 and charges $110 a month for service. USAID referred to the project as a “public-private partnership.”

This information directly contradicts what SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC in March. “I don’t think the U.S. has given us any money to give terminals to the Ukraine,” Shotwell said. At the time, she did note that most of the funding for Starlink terminals being given to Ukraine came mostly from private sources, with some help from the governments of France and Poland.

Without release of further financial information, determining how much of the Starlink project was underwritten by the United States and how much was paid for by SpaceX itself is not possible. What is clear, is that the United States did not pay for all of the terminals as claimed in the tweet. SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

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Alec Dent is a former culture editor and staff writer for The Dispatch.