SpaceX chief Elon Musk has sent a team of Starlink engineers to the South Pacific to help get Tonga back online after a recent volcanic eruption severed the only cable connecting the island nation to the internet.
With repairs to the undersea cable still ongoing, and a population desperate to contact loved ones overseas, several politicians in the region have been making public calls asking Musk if he would be able to use his Starlink internet satellites to restore Tonga’s internet connection following the January 15 disaster.
This prompted a tweet from Musk himself asking the people of Tonga to “let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals.” A short while later, a number of Starlink engineers set off for Tonga’s neighboring nation of Fiji to start work on constructing a Starlink Gateway ground station.
News of Musk’s helpful intervention came via Fiji attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who tweeted this week that SpaceX was now working to “reconnect Tonga to the world.”
The Hunga Tonga volcano's shockwave shattered Tonga's internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments. A @SpaceX team is now in Fiji establishing a Starlink Gateway station to reconnect Tonga to the world.
Great initiative, @elonmusk!
— Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (@FijiAG) February 7, 2022
SpaceX’s Starlink internet service launched last year and uses a growing constellation of satellites with the ultimate goal of providing connectivity to any place on Earth, with underserved or unserved communities in remote locations a particular focus. The ground stations are a critical part of the Starlink setup, while the users themselves only need to install a small receiving dish to connect their device to the internet.
Repairs to the cable, which runs 500 miles beneath the Pacific to Fiji, are still ongoing after being hampered by bad weather earlier this week. Since the eruption, which caused a tsunami, razed homes, and left three people dead, the Tongan government has managed to restore some phone connections for those living on the main island, but Starlink could help bring internet connectivity to those living on the nation’s many smaller islands who will otherwise have to wait much longer to get back online.