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            Starlink:Blurring the Civilian-Military Line

            Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2022-06-09 14:21:04 | Author: YU?Haoyuan

            By YU Haoyuan

            UNESCO defines science as, "One of the most important channels of knowledge, which has a specific role, as well as a variety of functions, for the benefit of our society." But it seems that some countries have seldom followed this rule. During the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, Starlink (satellites), a civil technology that aims to "benefit all humankind," is also being used in the war.

            In 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced his plan to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites to low earth orbit between 2019 and 2024, saying it would benefit humanity. SpaceX also started its intense campaign to promote the launching plan. Currently, there are thousands of Starlink satellites in orbit, and even before completion of the SpaceX plan the satellites are already being used by the U.S. military.

            Since this March, batches of Starlink terminals have been sent to Ukraine and used for drone strikes. Musk approved the action on February 26, and the technology was weaponized by the Ukraine force Aerorozvidka, a specialist air reconnaissance unit. "If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition," an Aerorozvidka leader told The Times of London.

            Starlink assistance in the Ukraine war is not just commercial business, as the U.S. government has paid the bill. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) wrote on its website that it has, "Delivered 5,000 Starlink terminals to the Government of Ukraine through a public-private partnership with the American aerospace manufacturer, SpaceX."

            Perhaps many people simply consider that this technology is being temporarily used for military purposes during a time of war. But recent news has forced people to question the temporary nature of the partnership. The war between Russia and Ukraine has not yet ended, but the U.S. Army has already begun to use Starlink in other areas. Probably influenced by Starlink's huge victory in the current war, U.S. Northern Commander Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, on May 5, announced a new experiment integrating commercial satellites with military networks for tactical and strategic communications within one year. Starlink is one of the companies that may participate in the experiment.

            Meanwhile, Musk also announced that Starlink has already covered all seven continents after the Philippines, Mozambique and Nigeria approved Starlink satellite services in the same month. If the U.S. Army does choose Starlink commercial satellites, then U.S. military power will be further entrenched globally.

            Looking back at the recent past of Starlink's operation, its satellites were reported to be responsible for many close encounters in orbit. In September 2019, one of the SpaceX satellites came dangerously close to ESA's wind-monitoring satellite Aeolus. In April 2021, another SpaceX satellite came within 60 meters of smashing into one owned by a British-backed company. What's more of a "coincidence," in July and October 2021, their satellites nearly twice collided with China's space station Tiangong. All these near-misses are reminiscent of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative.

            The U.S., however, has never explained the military connection with Starlink, but it is the country that always accuses others of potentially putting civil science into military use. Maybe, the U.S. should practice what UNESCO preaches and let science truly benefit of our society.

            Editor: 余昊原

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