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Trade and technology

How Starlink and satellite internet are reshaping geopolitics in space

Published 02 May 2023

The US-China geopolitical rivalry is fueling an internet space race that is driving a technology revolution in low earth orbit satellites, which promise to bring high-speed internet to every square inch of the planet. The technology has been pivotal in the Ukraine war and is shaking up the future of trade.

Moscow's attack on Ukraine's internet infrastructure did not prevent Ukrainians from staying connected to the world via the satellite-based internet service known as Starlink, controlled by Elon Musk's SpaceX. This connectivity helped Ukraine target Russian military assets, all with the help of small, affordable, and portable pieces of Starlink hardware that can be purchased on e-commerce platforms and delivered via local last-mile logistics providers, sometimes within plain sight of the battlefront.

To compete with the likes of Starlink, China and other countries are now building their own LEO constellations despite high barriers to entry in the sector, which will further polarize global markets. Given its capacity for lethal purposes and in facilitating open-source digital warfare, LEO satellite technologies and their related architecture add to a growing list of strategic industries subject to increasing regulation, decoupling, ring-fencing, and friend-shoring. Research Fellow Alex Capri takes us to the latest frontier of geopolitical competition.

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Alex Capri

Alex Capri is a research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation and a lecturer in the Business School at the National University of Singapore. He also teaches at the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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