SpaceX sends team to Fiji for six months as it works to re-establish internet connectivity for Kingdom of Tonga after devastating volcanic eruption
A team from Elon Musk’s SpaceX has arrived in the South Pacific to work on reconnecting the Kingdom of Tonga to the internet after a devastating volcanic eruption, according to officials in neighbouring Fiji, where the work is taking place.
SpaceX operates the Starlink network of broadband satellites.
“A SpaceX team is now in Fiji establishing a Starlink gateway station to reconnect Tonga to the world,” said Fiji communications minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Twitter.
The message confirmed earlier reports by local media in Fiji that SpaceX was working on re-establishing internet communications for Tonga.
Sayed-Khaiyum said SpaceX was planning to establish and operate a temporary ground station in Fiji for six months.
“The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) had applied for a temporary emergency telecommunications licence on the 20th of January,” he told FBC News.
“The sole purpose of this licence is to provide an internet gateway.”
He added that SpaceX was also in commercial negotiations with Fiji’s telecommunications operator, Fintel, to establish a more permanent ground station in the country.
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
Tonga’s sole fibre-optic link to the internet was severed by the 15 January eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano that blanketed the nation’s capital in ash and triggered a tsunami that destroyed villages and resorts.
According to Refinitiv shipping data the cable repair ship Reliance has been off the coast of Tonga’s main island for about a week as it seeks to repair the cable, a process which could take a month.
The severed cable has made it difficult for Tongans to keep in touch with relatives abroad and has hampered recovery efforts.
SpaceX on 3 February launched its latest deployment of satellites, with Elon Musk saying at the time that the company was planning an average of one launch per week for 2022.
By the end of the year about two-thirds of the planned Starlink network should be in orbit, he said.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 3, 2022