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Elon Musk's control over satellite internet demands a reckoning

By Editorial Board

30 Aug 2023 · 4 min read

informed Summary

  1. Elon Musk’s control over the satellite internet industry, particularly through his company Starlink, has raised concerns. Starlink, which operates in low Earth orbit, has over 4,500 satellites, making up more than half of the total satellites in the sky. The company's Starlink satellites provide crucial internet services to remote locations, including war zones like Ukraine.

When Elon Musk reportedly spoke of a "great conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, minutes after declaring he could see "the entire war unfolding" through a map of activity on the small satellite constellation he owns, a senior defense official had the following reaction: "Oh dear, this is not good."

The statement, featured in a recent New Yorker article, aptly captures the situation in which the United States government finds itself. A single man exerts considerable control over the satellite internet industry that operates in "low Earth orbit" - generally about 300 miles above Earth - even as that industry is crucial to the war effort in Ukraine. Worse still, that man is the erratic Mr. Musk. There are just shy of 8,000 satellites in the skies today; more than 4,500 of those are Starlink satellites, launched by SpaceX. The company hopes to multiply this number almost tenfold in the coming years.

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