Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of SpaceX, abruptly reversed himself on Saturday, saying that his company would continue to fund the operation of the Starlink internet service in Ukraine, where it has become a digital lifeline for both soldiers and civilians.
Mr. Musk, the world’s richest man, drew criticism on Friday when he said on Twitter that his company could not “indefinitely” fund Ukraine’s use of Starlink. The service has been crucial for the Ukrainian army’s communication as it advances into territory occupied by Russia and defends against continued Russian attacks.
CNN reported that SpaceX had sent a letter to the Pentagon last month asking it to take over the funding of Ukraine’s use of Starlink, which is built and operated by SpaceX.
But on Saturday, Mr. Musk changed course, again posting his decision on Twitter.
“The hell with it,” he wrote. He added that “even though Starlink is still losing money” and “other companies are getting billions” in tax dollars, “we’ll just keep funding” the Ukrainian government for free.
Mr. Musk had helped provide Ukraine with access to the service after Russia invaded in February. About 20,000 Starlink terminals, which were designed to work with satellites orbiting in space to provide online access, have been delivered to Ukraine.
It is not completely clear who is footing the bill for the service. A document obtained by The New York Times showed that as of September, Starlink terminals had been funded in part by three Western governments: the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland.
The document showed that whereas SpaceX donated about 3,000 terminals to Ukraine, other governments and allies provided funds for nearly 17,000. Mr. Musk has previously said that SpaceX is footing the monthly bill for the service that is streamed to the terminals.
Earlier this month, Mr. Musk said the operation in Ukraine had cost SpaceX $80 million. On Friday, he added that “burn” for the project, which refers to the money spent by SpaceX, was about $20 million a month.
As of July, the Ukrainian army was using about 4,000 of the mobile terminals. That month, the army requested an additional 6,700 from SpaceX but has yet to receive them.
Mr. Musk’s Starlink comments come more than a week after he drew a fierce rebuke from Ukrainian officials for proposing a peace plan — which included ceding territory to Russia — to end the war.