Elon Musk’s SpaceX Seeks to Reconnect Tonga to Internet


SYDNEY—SpaceX, the space-exploration company founded by Elon Musk, is seeking to establish a communications bridge to Tonga after last month’s volcanic eruption and tsunami largely cut the Pacific nation off from the outside world, a senior Fijian lawmaker said.

The disaster on Jan. 15 killed three people and severed Tonga’s undersea cable that provides high-speed internet via Fiji. The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano also deposited a carpet of material up to 1.2 inches deep across the Pacific archipelago of some 170 islands.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name for the company Mr. Musk founded almost two decades ago, has a team in Fiji establishing a station that would connect Tonga via its satellite-internet service Starlink, said

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum,

Fiji’s attorney-general who also serves as the Pacific nation’s communication minister.

SpaceX, which has launched around 1,800 Starlink satellites and is active in more than 20 countries, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Tonga’s recovery from the eruption and tsunami is being complicated by an outbreak of Covid-19, which led the government to lock down the country on Feb. 2. Schools, banks and shops have been closed and a nighttime curfew has been put in place.

Australia and New Zealand have sent navy ships carrying humanitarian and disaster-relief supplies to Tonga amid concerns that ash from the volcano could poison water sources. The U.S. has also provided more than $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance, working with aid agencies including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Satellite images show the moment an undersea volcano in the Pacific nation of Tonga erupted and triggered a tsunami, which damaged the archipelago’s coastline. Many homes were destroyed and vast areas were blanketed in ash. Screenshot: KMA/Simon Proud/NCEO via Storyful

Tonga Cable Ltd. Chairman

Samiuela Fonua

said repairs to the fiber-optic cable are continuing, with tests planned for this weekend.

An extensive section of the cable—about 50 miles—was damaged, which meant Tonga Cable had to negotiate to use additional cable aboard the repair ship that is owned by another company, he said.

“We are looking at next week if all goes well for our international link to be online,” he said.

While residents of Tongatapu—home to most of Tonga’s people, as well as the Tongan monarchy’s waterfront palace, embassies and resorts—are able to make voice calls via networks operated by Digicel Group Ltd., there is limited internet connectivity and demand exceeds capacity.

The last break in the undersea cable in 2019—caused by a ship’s anchor—took two weeks to repair using a specialized vessel, but didn’t face the complications of an erupting volcano.

Write to David Winning at [email protected]

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