The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai underwater volcano on January 15 spread shock-waves around the world. The violent eruption was equivalent to around 10 megatons of TNT, It produced a tsunami throughout Tonga and neighboring Fiji and Samoa Islands. Shock waves traveled thousands of kilometers (km) across the Pacific Ocean, including all the way in the United States California coast, Mexico, and New Zealand. The volcanic eruption destroyed a long undersea internet communication cable that connects the islands to the rest of the world wide web, leaving Tonga's 105,000 residents without internet service. Tonga relies a single undersea fiber-optic cable that is 827 kilometers long and is as thick as a garden hose. Fixing the cable is expensive and could take weeks to complete, it requires a submarine to send a crew to repair the cable infrastructure.
On Tuesday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk offered to send SpaceX Starlink terminals to Tonga region to connect communities to the internet via the satellite constellation. The Starlink network consists of around 1,400 active satellites that beam internet data directly to user dish antennas of over 145,000 customers across 25 countries. –“Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?” Musk wrote via Twitter on January 21, in response to a news report that said Tonga will have to wait an entire month to regain access to internet. SpaceX has previously provided the space-based Starlink service to disaster-struck regions around the world, including during the Germany floods of 2021.
People with relatives living in Tonga replied to Musk asking him to help provide internet to the region to enable contact with family and assist in emergency response efforts. New Zealand Member of Parliament Dr. Shane Reti, wrote a letter to Musk asking for assistance to connect Tonga to the internet, shown below. “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 [satellites] that serve the Tonga region. That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation,” Musk wrote in response. The inter-satellite communication laser links enable the satellites to beam data to one another to expand internet coverage across regions where no ground station data centers are located. SpaceX only has around 270 satellites equipped with laser links in orbit that are currently raising into an operational altitude and won’t be activated until each reach a designated orbit. The company launched a pair of Starlink missions carrying 49 satellites each this month with the laser links feature.
Josephine Latu-Sanft, a Tongan media communications specialist who lives in London asked Musk to help her home country. –“I don’t know the details of what StarLink can do but I know you have the tech & means to help. Eg. Give [people] internet until the undersea cable is repaired then work with partners to establish robust disaster [communication] infrastructure across disaster-vulnerable Pacific,” she suggested via Twitter.
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.
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