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Ukraine's First Starlink Terminal

Starlink,SpaceX,Ukraine
Oleg Kutkov
November 8, 202211:00 AM

As an engineer and tech nerd, I was always interested in new technologies.

That's why the Starlink project captured my attention from the first day. Space, antennas, and a lot of cool electronics. What could be better? I started following the Starlink project by collecting all the available public information. It was pure academic interest. Very quickly the "Starlink research" directory on my PC became huge.

I managed to buy my first Starlink terminal (Dishy) back in December 2021. I bought it on eBay and had it delivered to Kyiv, Ukraine, where I live. It may have been the very first terminal in my country.

Of course, there was no Starlink service in Ukraine, but I never expected to use this terminal for any specific purpose. I bought it to disassemble my Dishy, to see what's inside, and to figure out how it works. It was an exciting process that took months, but it was worth it. I collected a lot of exciting information. And it helped me to find new interesting people on Twitter.

Then came February 24th. I woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound of calls and notifications. The Russian army had crossed the border and attacked Ukrainian cities. We heard an air raid siren for the first time.

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The gray February morning made it feel even more apocalyptic. It was scary. My wife and I started to pack all our documents and necessary stuff, and then decide what to do. We went to an improvised bomb shelter in the basement of our apartment house. By reading the news, I found that many people were leaving Kyiv. They headed west. It's created traffic jams and chaos. 

We decided to stay home.

We had nowhere to go and didn't want to be stuck somewhere out on the road. I went to a local grocery store to get some food and additional water. We had electricity, warmth, and internet.

Then I contacted my colleagues, and we coordinated our next steps. 2020 taught us how to work remotely. This helped to save and continue our work. It was crucial. Some of my colleagues also decided to move west, but I decided to continue my work from home. Honestly, I had no idea how to move my electronic lab and computers — everything I needed for my work and personal projects. That work and my hobbies helped me stay calm and sane in the middle of a war.

During the following days, we saw and heard many scary things including cruise missiles and blasts.  Enemy forces tried to parachute into Kyiv but were defeated. There were a lot of explosions and shots. We had to visit the bomb shelter multiple times, day and night. And still tried to continue my work.

Maintaining an internet connection has been critical. Here we receive all our crucial information from Telegram channels and Twitter. We have official government channels and bots. It's almost real-time information about the war. Telegram channels notify us about air raid alarms even before the actual alarm sounds. We can monitor the situation in the country and cities. Everyone is constantly posting something.

Then I saw Musk’s post that the Starlink service is now active in Ukraine — I looked at my disassembled Starlink terminal and decided to give it a shot. I thought it might be a good backup option for internet connectivity if something happened to our primary channels. But first I had to put my terminal back together. It was in pieces, and I had no idea if it still worked. And once I had it up and running, though Dishy appeared to be alive, I couldn't find a connection.

Luckily, SpaceX support helped me activate my US-origin terminal in Ukraine. Usually, You install the Starlink terminal outside, under the clear sky. The Dishy has motors that rotate the terminal to the most optimal position. I didn't have all of that. All I had was a half-assembled terminal and the window of my lab.

I installed the Dishy just outside my window and finally found a connection. It took only a few minutes to connect with a speed of more than 130 Mbps. It was amazing. I think I might be the first Starlink user in Ukraine. At least as a civilian.

I made more experiments and measurements and even shot a short video with a Speedtest record. The video went viral and was even liked by Elon Musk.

Next, my private messages on Twitter and Facebook exploded. I received a ton of questions from different people around the world, but most of them were Ukrainians who saw me in the news. Some people had already lost regular internet access — others were afraid that could happen soon. Many people didn't know what Starlink was. They asked where they could get the terminal, how to connect, and so on. I answered the same questions for everyone over the next few days.

Then I decided to create a Facebook community, "Starlink in Ukraine,” where I decided to share all my experience and knowledge, without the deep technical details that not every user needs. The group started growing fast. A lot of people were interested and I was able to answer their questions.

Our group now has more than 1600 members. It's a strong and active community, and I am proud of what we achieved. I met new people in the Starlink community, and we’re working together on Starlink-related projects to help other users. 

We became the non-official Starlink tech support service.

 

After the liberation of some territories, ISPs and mobile operators started to rebuild their networks, and Starlink became very useful there as well. Starlink terminals on cell towers helped create channels instead of damaged fiber optics. And Starlink has become critical for the Ukrainian army, using Starlink for high-speed and secure communication in the field and on the front line.

Starlink is difficult to jam and track and it's used for everything: drones, video streams, communication with command centers, and even synchronizing attacks.

The war has forced the rapid development of Starlink for the field, and manuals have already been written for the safe usage of Starlink on the frontline — many with the help of the Facebook group we started.

Now we have more than 10000 active terminals in Ukraine. It's a record.

This space technology became a crucial part of life for those of us on Earth during this senseless and cruel war. It also changed my life and helped me to find new friends.

For more from Oleg, check out our interview with him on the Supercluster Podcast embedded below.

Oleg Kutkov
November 8, 202211:00 AM