SpaceX founder Elon Musk wants to know if Tongan residents would like him to save them from their potentially month-long internet blackout. The small pacific island nation was the site of a horrific volcanic eruption last weekend that caused mass evacuations, widespread electricity loss, and a nationwide internet outage resulting from a badly damaged submarine fibre optic cable. That’s where Musk comes in.
In a tweet replying to a Reuters article about the outage, Musk asked, “Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?” Here, Musk was referring to SpaceX’s satellite internet service Starlink, which has currently launched around 1,900 satellites into orbit. Users with an active Starlink terminal can connect to the company’s constellation of satellites to, in theory, achieve download and upload speeds approaching that of broadband. Starlink has grown its capacity in recent years and was reportedly on track for global coverage capabilities late last year.
Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 21, 2022
Though it’s unclear if any Tongan officials have asked for Musk’s support, some others have. One official, New Zealand representative Shane Reti, started pressing Musk on the issue earlier this week when he sent a letter requesting urgent internet aid.
“I am respectfully asking if you [Musk] could see your way please to provide urgent Starlink internet communications to public officials and the good people of Tonga in this moment of need,” Reti asked in his brief appeal to the world’s richest man.
Gizmodo reached out to SpaceX for comment but did not immediately hear back. We also tried reaching out to Tonga’s Prime Minister’s office for more details but were unable to make contact.
I guess Elon Musk can only say no and if you don't ask you don't know. After the Minister told me in a phone call on Monday that the telecommunications cable to Tonga was down I immediately sent a letter to Elon to see if he would contribute Starlink to the emergency pic.twitter.com/Upg9WijWrq— Dr Shane Reti (@DrShaneRetiMP) January 21, 2022
Local Tongan officials are already using limited satellite internet services to communicate with the outside world but that service, according to a government press release. Telephone communications are also tricking back on. However, most Tongan’s are still isolated from the internet and could be for as much as four weeks as repair workers go through the arduous task of fixing a likely break in the country’s single 830-kilometre submarine fibre optic cable connecting it to nearby Fiji.
Nearly a week has passed since the Tonga Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano exploded and the world is still just now getting a clear picture of the damage. New photos released by the Tongan government’s social media accounts show a deluge of destruction. Scientists at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation now claim the eruption’s shockwave was detected in monitoring stations as far away as Antarctica.“It’s the biggest thing that we’ve ever seen,” geophysicist Ronan Le Bras told NPR. NASA scientists, meanwhile, estimate the eruption was about 10 megatons in size according to NPR. That’s roughly 500 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
For anyone who forgot, this isn’t the first time Musk has tried to play hero during a well-publicised crisis event. Back in 2019, Musk gained notoriety by offering to build a mini-submarine to rescue 12 kids trapped in a Thai cave.
In that case, Musk’s idea, which scientists claimed wasn’t practical, never saw the light of day. That saga ended with Musk accusing a British diver who ultimately saved the children of being a pedophile after the diver mocked Musk’s rescue efforts. So far, there’s no word of Musk accusing any Tongan officials of devious behaviour, which, regardless of whether or not Starlink arrives in the country, is already a welcome improvement.