Government of Tonga Thanks SpaceX For Providing Starlink Internet After Volcano Destroyed Fiber-optic Communications

Government of Tonga Thanks SpaceX For Providing Starlink Internet After Volcano Destroyed Fiber-optic Communications

Featured Images Source: Maxar/SpaceX/Matangi Tonga News Online

The government of the Kingdom of Tonga announced that SpaceX already delivered the Starlink equipment to begin providing Starlink internet to the island country after a volcano eruption destroyed fiber-optic communications. The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano located in the South Pacific Ocean erupted on January 15, 2022. The eruption force was hundreds of times more powerful than the Atomic bomb, it produced destructive tsunami shockwaves throughout Tonga and neighboring Fiji and Samoa Islands. The blast destroyed an important underwater fiber-optic internet cable that connects the Islands to the world wide web. Tonga relies a single undersea fiber-optic cable that is 827 kilometers long and is as thick as a garden hose. Fixing the undersea cable infrastructure is still ongoing. 

SpaceX founder Elon Musk offered to connect affected Tonga communities to the internet through the Starlink broadband satellite network. He sent engineers to the nearby island of Fiji soon after his offer to set up a Starlink Gateway ground station to provide internet to the affected region. The gateway is a ground station antenna connected to a local internet data center that transmits data to the Starlink satellites in orbit then beams internet to nearby users.

Today, February 23rd, Tonga’s Prime Minister Hon Siaosi Sovaleni told Matangi Tonga Online News reporters that they are thankful for Musk’s generosity. They already tested SpaceX’s Starlink user antennas to begin connecting people in the island villages, after not having reliable internet communication for over 5 weeks. The government says they received 50 Starlink user antennas free-of-charge, donated by SpaceX. “We have tested them and one terminal has been set up in the Prime Minister’s Office,” said Sovaleni. "[...] I sincerely thank them for lending a hand at times of need.” The Starlink user terminal are very easy to install, simply plug-in and point at a clear view of the sky. Users can receive SpaceX satellite internet in less than 10-minutes. The company currently operates around 1,900 Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit.

"[...] It is rather paradoxical for a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami to bring to our shores the latest in satellite and communications technology. Elon Musk probably didn't know much about Tonga until January 15, but gave generously," he said during a broadcast by the Tonga Broadcasting Commission. The Starlink service will be useful for first responders communicate to assist in rebuilding efforts and emergency operations, as well as provide families with access to internet to reach out to loved ones who live overseas. The Minister said SpaceX will provide free service during the emergency period until the undersea fiber-optic cable system is fully restored to serve the public.

Image:  Tonga Prime Minister Hon Siaosi Sovaleni receives SpaceX Starlink user terminals. / Source: Matangi Tonga Online News 

About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

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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