SpaceX is busy ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station these days, but that’s not all Elon Musk’s aerospace firm is doing. It’s also gearing up for a Mars colonization effort and deploying a satellite internet constellation called Starlink. You can get Starlink internet in a few places, but Russia doesn’t want any of its citizens going through the SpaceX system as it expands. In fact, the country has floated the idea of fining people for using Starlink or other foreign satellite internet services.
Starlink relies on the same basic premise as traditional satellite internet — the subscriber on the ground has an antenna which they point upward to communicate with the space-based network. Services like Hughes and ViaSat have been around for years, offering mediocre speeds for an exorbitant amount of money. You can’t blame them too much — launching satellites is expensive unless you’re SpaceX.
The company is constantly launching batches of 60 Starlink satellites aboard its Falcon 9 rockets, which are much easier and cheaper to launch thanks to SpaceX’s reusable design. There are currently almost 1,000 nodes in the Starlink network, but the company is approved for 12,000 total satellites to provide faster speeds and cable-like latency. As it approaches that number, Starlink should be available globally, but Russian citizens might find their government discourages using Starlink.
Russia is strongly invested in monitoring and controlling internet traffic among its people. In the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, a report claims the government is looking at fines for anyone who uses Starlink or a similar “western” satellite internet service. The fines could range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($135-$405) for individuals who use Starlink. Businesses could see fines of 500,000 to 1 million rubles ($6,750 to $13,500).
Any traffic going through a satellite internet service will bypass any controls or monitoring programs active within Russia. Russia’s spaceflight chief, Dmitry Rogozin has also criticized the US government’s support of SpaceX, which he considers “predatory” and geared toward projecting American power across the globe. However, satellite internet might be inevitable as even those in rural areas have started expecting reliable connectivity. A recent survey found that more than half of Americans were at least willing to consider switching to Starlink when it’s available in their area — that’s how much we all hate our ISPs.
Russia has started making plans for a national satellite internet platform called Sphere that could begin launching as soon as 2024. However, the cost of deploying such a system with Russia’s current launch assets could be prohibitively high.