Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has given emergency responders in Washington access to its Starlink satellites to help fight fires.
Through the satellite-based internet constellation Starlink, SpaceX plans to provide broadband internet across the globe and enable connectivity to billions of people who may not have reliable internet access.
SpaceX has already launched hundreds of satellites into orbit, though the firefighters’ use of the network is the first early application of the internet service to be disclosed.
Public information officer Steven Friederich told CNN SpaceX loaned seven terminals to access its satellites to the Washington Emergency Management Division (WEMD), which coordinates mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery in Washington state.
Firefighters in Washington have been working tirelessly to tackle wildfires tearing through the region, and with the help of the terminals they can coordinate firefighting efforts in rural areas in the state; commanding vehicles to request resources, organising daily activities, and making decisions such as ordering helicopters for wildfire fighting activities.
Washington’s state military began employing Starlink user terminals in early August with the aim of helping to provide internet service to the areas devastated by wildfires. The terminals are small devices on the ground that connect to the satellites.
Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC that he had ‘never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable’ as Starlink.
With the help of Starlink, internet access has been provided in the small town of Malden, which was 80% destroyed last month. The satellites are also being used in Western Washington, near Bonney Lake.
WEMD praised SpaceX on Twitter, writing:
Happy to have the support of @SpaceX’s Starlink internet as emergency responders look to help residents rebuild the town of Malden, WA that was overcome by wildfires earlier this month.
SpaceX CEO Musk responded to the tweet to say he was ‘glad’ the company could help.
We are prioritizing emergency responders & locations with no Internet connectivity at all.
According to GeekWire, Friederich said internet access in places such as Malden would be nearly impossible without the Starlink service. He added that the terminals could be utilised should the area suffer more wildfires or ‘even larger disasters, such as a Cascadia Subduction earthquake event, where communication problems would be a huge hurdle.’
SpaceX plans to grow Starlink in the future to include more than 40,000 satellites.
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