Elon Musk is helping reconnect Tonga to the internet using Space Starlink satellites, after a giant volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off undersea cables
- Engineers working for Elon Musk’s SpaceX are in Fiji setting up a Stalink station
- This will allow people living in the volcano-hit island of Tonga access to the web
- Islanders have been without, or with limited internet since a volcanic eruption
- The 2022 Hunga Tonga eruption and tsunami hit the islands on January 15
Elon Musk is working to help Tonga get back online, after a giant volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off undersea internet cables to the Pacific Island.
Islanders have been without access to the web for three weeks, after officials found repairing the undersea cables was proving more difficult than first thought, and is unlikely to be repaired until the end of next week.
It was severed after the Hunga Tonga eruption and tsunami hit the islands on January 15 – it led to the death of at least three people, and wiped out several small settlements.
To make things harder, the island has also gone into a Covid-19 lockdown, after the virus was brought in by foreign military crews on ships delivering aid.
SpaceX is in nearby Fiji establishing a station that would reconnect Tonga via its network of almost 2,000 low Earth orbit internet satellites.
Musk had previously shown interest in helping Tonga get back on line, asking on Twitter a week after the eruption whether people in the island want a Starlink terminal.
The tsunami severed the sole fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world and most people remain without reliable connections.
SpaceX Starlink works by creating a mesh network in orbit, that users within the range of these satellites can connect to using a specialist dish and terminal.
Islanders have been without access to the web for three weeks, after officials found repairing the undersea cables was proving more difficult than first thought, and is unlikely to be repaired until the end of next week
It was severed after the Hunga Tonga eruption and tsunami hit the islands on January 15 – it led to the death of at least three people, and wiped out several small settlements
SpaceX Starlink works by creating a mesh network in orbit, that users within the range of these satellites can connect to using a specialist dish and terminal
STARLINK: SATELLITE INTERNET FROM SPACEX
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched nearly 2,000 of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites into orbit.
They form a constellation designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.
Its goal is to beam superfast internet into your home from space.
There are an estimated 145,000 users users around the world, and that is before it available worldwide.
SpaceX says putting a ‘constellation’ of satellites in low earth orbit would provide high-speed, cable-like internet all over the world.
The company has previously filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit above the Earth and could have 42,000.
‘Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,’ the firm said.
‘Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.’
‘The Hunga Tonga volcano’s shockwave shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments,’ wrote Fijian Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Monday.
The team are building a Gateway Station, that will act as a ground-based relay to get the remote island connected to the internet via space.
The move comes amid a growing Covid-19 outbreak in the South Pacific islands, something Tonga had managed to avoid for more than two years.
New infections are said to be growing rapidly after the virus was apparently brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes delivering critical aid after the volcanic eruption.
‘With many displaced people in the aftermath of the eruption, an already fragile health care system and the isolation of the islands, the outbreak is a particular cause for concern,’ said Katie Greenwood, the head of delegation in the Pacific for the International Red Cross.
‘Resourcing community health and primary health facilities, especially in remote locations, is extremely challenging.
‘COVID most certainly presents a threat to these systems and to vulnerable people who may not access the level of care required.’
Many Tongans are now in lockdown with their communications severely restricted due to the severed undersea cable, but islanders are said to be hopeful Musk will solve their problem and get them reconnected.
A spokeswoman for Sayed-Khaiyum said Wednesday she was waiting for more information about the Starlink project before providing further details.
Musk had previously shown interest in helping Tonga get back on line, asking on Twitter a week after the eruption whether people in the island want a Starlink terminal
Elon Musk said he would use SpaceX Starlink to bring internet to the small island nation of Tonga, but then back pedaled on his offer shortly after making the statement
All was going according to plan until a few hours later when Musk broke the news: ‘This is a hard thing for us to do right now.’ Musk said SpaceX does not have enough internet satellites to assist the people of Tonga – the company has 2,000 devices in Earth’s orbit
SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment, and it is unclear how far advanced the work is, or who will be covering the cost.
Shortly after offering Starlink terminals to Tonga, Musk said that it could pose a problem, as they don’t have enough internet satellites in the right locations.
Coverage is limited to areas where a Starlink satellite is within range, so by building a relay station in Fiji, its hoped this will open up the island to the network.
New Zealand politician Dr. Shane Reti wrote to Musk asking him to help provide a Starlink connection. After the reports from Fiji emerged, Reti tweeted: ‘Very pleased. Elon Musk providing satellite to Tonga.’
Meanwhile Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson at Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company that owns the crucial undersea cable, said that repairs to the cable might not be completed until the end of next week.
Fonua said the good news was that the crew aboard the repair ship CS Reliance had managed to locate both ends of the damaged cable.
The massive volcano erupted on January 15, creating a ‘massive explosion’ that happens once in every thousand years, and is large enough to be visible from space
‘The Hunga Tonga volcano’s shockwave shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments,’ wrote Fijian Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Monday
In this photo taken with a long exposure, a string of Elon Musk’s SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kansas
The bad news, he said, was the damage was extensive and his company didn’t have enough cable aboard the ship to replace a mangled section of more than 50 miles.
Fonua said there was extra cable aboard the Reliance that was owned by other companies, and Tonga Cable was hoping to secure agreements with those companies to use it.
People on the island have had some limited connection via small satellite internet devices and other telecommunication support from the UN.
Stephane Dujarric, UN spokesperson said more equipment was on the way, and UNICEF had sent 15,000 rapid Covid-19 testing kits to help with the outbreak.
There have been estimated 35 cases overall in the nation of 105,000 – 34 in the current outbreak and one from last October, when a missionary tested positive after returning from Africa via New Zealand.
Health Minister Saia Piukala said several of the new cases reported Tuesday included people who went out to drink kava, a popular intoxicating drink made from the root of a local plant, with a friend who was infected.
The volcano created a ‘massive explosion’ that happens once in every thousand year. It triggered a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, sending tsunami waves crashing into the island, leaving it covered in ash and cut off from outside help
Dr Shane Reti, MP based in Whangarei, sent a letter to Musk shortly after hearing of the proposal asking if his space-based internet could help the people of Tonga
‘Once in a THOUSAND years explosion’ hits Tonga islands
An underwater volcano that erupted in Tonga was a ‘massive explosion’ that only happens ‘roughly every thousand years’ and was so large it was visible from space.
The explosion triggered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and sent tsunami waves crashing into the coast of the Pacific island, leaving it covered in ash and cut off from aid.
In the US, waves of more than four feet were recorded on the California coast, and tsunami-effect waves were recorded along the coast in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia in Canada, and Alaska.
Satellite images showed the spectacular eruption from space and despite the dire warnings, spectators flocked to the beaches to view the surging tsunami waves, while surfers threw caution to the wind to catch the powerful waves generated by the surge.
Tsunami-hit Tonga remained largely uncontactable on Sunday with telephone and internet links severed, leaving relatives in faraway New Zealand praying for their families on the Pacific islands as casualty reports had yet to come through.
Professor Shane Cronin, from the University of Auckland, is an expert in Tonga eruptions. ‘This is one of the massive explosions the volcano is capable of producing roughly every thousand years,’ he wrote in The Conversation.
Prof Cronin added: ‘We could be in for several weeks or even years of major volcanic unrest from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano.’
Two women drowned in northern Peru when two metre waves hit a truck, dragging it into the sea at Naylamp beach, Lambayeque, in the north of the country.
The driver escaped but his wife and another women drowned in the swell. Although Peru did not issue a tsunami warning, its navy are monitoring ‘abnormal waves’ off its coast.
The massive ash cloud covering the tiny island nation of Tonga is preventing surveillance flights from New Zealand to assess the extent of damage.
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