Elon Musk offers Starlink internet to Tonga after eruption, tsunami

Tech billionaire Elon Musk offered to provide Starlink internet to the nation of Tonga on Thursday after a massive underwater volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami knocked service offline this week.

Musk’s offer of aid followed a report that it could take a month or longer to fully restore internet connectivity to Tonga and its roughly 105,000 residents. The natural disaster damaged Tonga’s lone undersea communications cable.

“Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?” Musk tweeted.

Musk’s SpaceX operates more than active 1,400 satellites — with plans to launch tens of thousands more — as part of its Starlink broadband internet system. The fledgling service, which exited its beta phase last November, aims to provide expanded, lower-cost access to high-speed broadband internet in remote regions.

Shane Reti, a member of New Zealand’s parliament, shared a letter online in which he asked Musk to provide “urgent Starlink internet communications to public officials and the good people of Tonga in this moment of need.”

Musk indicated that he would need confirmation from officials in Tonga before he could proceed with a Starlink rollout.

“This is a hard thing for us to do right now, as we don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region,” Musk tweeted. “That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation.”

A general view shows damaged buildings following volcanic eruption and tsunami, in Nuku'alofa, Tonga in this picture obtained from social media on January 20, 2022.
After a tsumani and volcanic eruption knocked out service, Elon Musk came up with a solution.
Courtesy of Marian Kupu/Broadcom Broadcasting FM87.5/via REUTERS

The undersea volcano near Tonga exploded with the force of “around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent,” James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR.

Musk’s Starlink initiative has drawn increased scrutiny on the global stage in recent months. Critics have accused SpaceX of effectively causing an orbital traffic jam with its satellite launches.

European Space Agency director-general Josef Aschbacher said Musk was “making the rules” in space at the expense of rivals.

Elon Musk attends TIME Person of the Year on December 13, 2021 in New York City.
Tech billionaire Elon Musk offered to provide Starlink internet to the nation of Tonga after a massive underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIME

“You have one person owning half of the active satellites in the world,” Aschbacher said.

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