Elon Musk Offers to Send Starlink Terminals to Aid in Tonga Recovery Efforts

by Michael Freeman
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Though the full aftereffects are still unclear, Tonga’s volcanic eruption caused a multitude of damage, including disrupting communications and internet access. Amid the disaster, Elon Musk is offering to send Starlink Terminals to aid them in their recovery efforts.

On January 15, an underwater volcano in Tonga erupted, with a powerful blast yield of around 10 megatons. This massive eruption triggered a tsunami that ripped through the country’s 827 undersea internet cable, Business Insider reported. Upon hearing Tonga would likely spend a month without internet access, Elon Musk took to Twitter to offer his assistance.

“Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?” he asked on social media platforms. Director of internet analysis at Kentik stated some areas have internet access, but as a whole, most still do not.

This comes shortly after Shane Reti, a New Zealand parliament member, wrote a letter to SpaceX specifically requesting Starlink support. He posted a picture of the letter via Twitter on January 20, once again asking for help. “I guess Elon Musk can only say no and if you don’t ask you don’t know. After the Minister told me in a phone call on Monday that the telecommunications cable to Tonga was down I immediately sent a letter to Elon to see if he would contribute Starlink to the emergency,” he tweeted.

Musk then replied he is seeking “clear confirmation” for Starlink terminals. Apparently, it is a “hard thing” for SpaceX to do on a whim since they “don’t have enough satellites with laser links.”

Regardless, hopefully, everything is straightened out soon and all of Tonga can freely use the internet again.

Though Starlink offers fast, affordable internet and can be used to help those in need, it presents its own set of problems. For example, the sheer number of satellites seems to be interfering with asteroid-spotting telescopes.

Daily Mail reports a few years ago the problem was minimal, but it continues to grow. One heavily-affected institution is The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), which often takes photos using its telescope but Starlink satellites are beginning to interfere. It seems the satellites appear as a streak on photos astronomers there take. Though the streaks only took up 0.5 percent of images in 2019, that number has grown to 20 percent now.

This problem came about due to the increased number of Starlink satellites deployed in low Earth orbit. With the number exceeding 2,000 now, astronomers fear it will only get worse once Starlink reaches its goal of 10,000. Additionally, British-owned OneWeb and Amazon are launching their own satellites, exacerbating the issue.

Though ZTF astronomers claim it is currently manageable and even developed countermeasures, they fear it will become more pronounced in the future.

Outsider.com