- SpaceX’s pivotal role in preventing a Russian fleet strike.
- Insights into Elon Musk’s influence on global communication and politics.
- The surprising CNN CEO revelation about ‘X’ losing connectivity.
- Unintended consequences of Starlink during Ukraine’s conflict.
SpaceX severed Starlink satellite internet access to Ukrainian underwater drones during their assault on the Russian Black Sea Fleet last year, as revealed in a recent biography chronicling the life of SpaceX’s visionary founder, Elon Musk.
These fresh insights into the previously documented event highlight the extent to which multiple governments rely on an individual who wields control over both a dominant high-speed communication network and a significant platform for public discourse, referred to here as ‘X.’
As per a CNN report, the armed submarine drones were poised to strike the Russian fleet. However, the forthcoming biography by Walter Isaacson, the former CEO of CNN, claims that the drones suddenly “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.”
In response to Musk cut internet service, Ukrainian and American authorities urgently sought to restore the service, directly appealing to Musk.
This account serves as a poignant reminder that SpaceX’s founder has amassed extraordinary influence due to his unparalleled pace of innovation, outstripping his competitors and, at times, even governments.
The big benefit is the massive private-sector innovation that the government wants to tap into to keep ahead of China and others, says Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the think tank Secure World Foundation. It gives the private sector a lot of control, especially over the companies and technologies that are controlled by billionaires.”
Within ‘X,’ Musk’s authority and occasionally capricious decisions have stirred unease among some officials and civil society experts. This unease is particularly evident as propaganda proliferates in the lead-up to a wave of global elections slated for the next year.
The abrupt discontinuation of Ukraine’s mission midway is emblematic of the power concentration within a few private enterprises in the realm of communication platforms, remarks Bret Schafer, an analyst at the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
Musk ceased warning ‘X’ users when they encountered content from state-controlled media, allowing propagandists from Russia and beyond to exploit the situation by acquiring verification checkmarks.
A study commissioned by the European Union has recently revealed that Russian propaganda has reached a broader audience on ‘X’ than before the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict.
In light of surging apprehensions regarding the ever-increasing phenomenon of hate speech, Musk has undertaken the formidable task of instigating legal recourse against a particular nonprofit entity, concurrently issuing a stern warning to another prominent organization, namely the Anti-Defamation League.
Paul Barrett, Deputy Director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, expresses concern: “It’s deeply unsettling to witness him employ corporate resources to stifle critics and skeptics.
You’d expect individuals with such corporate power to operate out of self-interest or make mistakes, but you wouldn’t anticipate someone providing a crucial technology to an ally and then abruptly retracting it during a wartime scenario. Responsible corporate conduct should not resemble this.”
The Dragon capsule, belonging to SpaceX, fulfills the esteemed role as NASA’s sole conduit for the transportation of astronauts to and from the illustrious International Space Station. It launches sensitive national security satellites for both the Pentagon and the National Reconnaissance Office.
SpaceX has surpassed its record from the previous year by launching more rockets than any other company or nation – an impressive 61 this year.
It operates more satellites than any other entity on Earth, boasting a constellation of over 4,500 in orbit.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, SpaceX commenced offering Starlink internet service to the nation, effectively becoming a lifeline when its communication infrastructure was largely crippled. However, Isaacson’s book discloses Musk’s concerns about Ukraine’s military leveraging this service for offensive operations.
How did I end up in this war, Musk once asked. He also emphasized that Starlink’s mission was not to aid in war but to allow people to access streaming, online education, and peaceful activities instead of drone attacks.
In February, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President and Chief Operating Officer, echoed similar sentiments, asserting that their intention was never to weaponize the technology. Nevertheless, the Ukrainians employed it in unintended ways, leading to communication disruption.
Since reports emerged of SpaceX halting satellite communication in Ukraine, the Pentagon has awarded the company a contract, the details of which remain undisclosed due to their sensitivity. However, this move is expected to provide the Pentagon with greater control and prevent abrupt service interruptions.
When SpaceX initially launched its Starlink constellation, Musk acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding its success. Other satellite companies had previously attempted and failed due to the exorbitant costs of launching and maintaining hundreds or thousands of satellites.
However, SpaceX’s vertically integrated approach, encompassing satellite construction and launch on its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, has thus far proven successful.
Beyond its use in Ukraine, the Starlink constellation connects remote communities and has played a pivotal role in disaster relief efforts and hurricane recovery, particularly in regions where conventional connectivity infrastructure has been compromised.
In contrast, another satellite provider, OneWeb, faced bankruptcy before being resurrected and now operates a considerably smaller network. Amazon, on the other hand, plans to launch thousands of satellites but has yet to send any into orbit.
Amazon faces a lawsuit from one of its shareholders, alleging unfair conduct in awarding launch contracts to commercial entities, including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, but excluding SpaceX.
SpaceX remains NASA’s sole provider for crew transportation to the space station, thanks to a deliberate strategy by NASA to encourage competition through multiple contracts. Boeing, the other recipient of this contract, has yet to conduct manned missions and may not do so until the following year.
SpaceX’s dominant position was not achieved effortlessly. Initially barred from Pentagon launch contracts, SpaceX had to litigate against the Air Force for the opportunity to compete. A similar battle was waged to secure NASA as a customer, and today.
Source(S): THE WASHINGTON POST