Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats launch SpaceX probe over Russian use of Starlink satellites

An image of the building with STARLINK written outside of it and the SpaceX logo

The logo of the Starlink satellite network, which is operated by the aerospace company SpaceX, at the marketing pavilion at the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona. Photo: Wolf von Dewitz/Getty Images

House Democrats are launching an investigation into Elon Musk's SpaceX over concerns that Russian forces have obtained the company's internet satellite terminals, per a letter sent Wednesday.

Why it matters: Ukraine has relied on SpaceX's Starlink in its counteroffensives against Russia, the letter said, and the U.S. government has poured resources into supporting Ukraine.

  • Starlink delivers high-speed broadband internet via a low Earth orbit to users all over the world.

Context: In 2023, Starlink entered a contract with the U.S. Defense Department to purchase 400 to 500 new Starlink terminals and services for Ukraine.

  • In February, Ukrainian authorities released intercepted audio communications between Russian forces indicating that they illegally deployed and activated Starlink terminals.

Threat level: "Russian procurement of, use of, or interference with Starlink terminals each has the potential to advance Russia's brutal and illegitimate invasion of Ukraine," the letter said.

Between the lines: Letters from the minority party requesting the voluntary turnover of information are often preludes to subpoenas once they retake the majority.

  • Democratic lawmakers are requesting information from SpaceX by March 20, including how many reports of illegal acquisition it has received, how the company assesses the complaints and what policies it has in place to prevent illegal use.
  • "It remains critical that Russia be deprived of any trade that empowers its military," the letter said.

Flashback: Last year, three Senate Democrats asked for answers from the Defense Department over Musk's role in reportedly thwarting a Ukrainian drone attack on Russian military ships.

Go deeper: Ukraine slams Musk for withholding internet service for attack on Russian navy

Go deeper