Brazil announces partnership with Elon Musk to connect Amazon rainforest


The Brazilian government has announced a partnership with Elon Musk’s company Starlink for the operation of satellites in the Amazon rainforest.

The plan was announced on 20th May, during Musk’s visit to Brazil, where he met president Jair Bolsonaro and five ministers, as well as 10 local businessmen at a luxury hotel in the countryside of São Paulo.

At the end of the event, Bolsonaro and Communications minister Fabio Faria spoke briefly to the press, describing how Starlink satellites, which should go live over the Amazon in the coming months, could be helpful in terms of providing broadband to schools and monitoring fires and logging in the rainforest.

Musk said on Twitter that Starlink would connect 19,000 schools in rural areas. In a press release, the Ministry of Communications replicated the contents of the tweet, adding that technical and specific investment details around the partnership will be “discussed at a later date, with the public and private sector stakeholders involved,” No contracts have been signed at the occasion.

The partnership follows the February announcement from telecommunications agency Anatel that it had granted Starlink, a company owned by spaceflight firm SpaceX, the right to operate in Brazil, with exploitation rights running until 2027. The agency considered granting the rights until 2033 but shortened the time span of the authorization given the venture’s “pioneering nature” and “possible unforeseen impacts.”

At the time of the Anatel announcement, the company said it had plans to put 4,408 satellites into orbit as part of its plans to build an interconnected satellite-based internet network. The company will not have the right to protection and cannot cause service interference with other satellite systems.

Prior to the latest developments, Musk, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell and minister Faria had met in November 2021 during a technical mission to the US to discuss the projects around connectivity and use of next-generation technology in the Amazon.

Environmental issues

Bolsonaro has been criticized for his administration’s handling of environmental matters in Brazil. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 64% between January and March 2022 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the national space agency Inpe.

The head of state stressed that Musk’s visit to Brazil is a “milestone” for the country and that technology will show the “truth” about how the Amazon is preserved. “Of course, there are niches for fires and irregular deforestation. But the arrival of satellites will help us preserve [the rainforest]”, he said.

“Now, we also need to develop that region, which is very rich in biodiversity and mineral wealth,” the president added. Bolsonaro offered the opportunity to exploit niobium reserves in Brazil to the billionaire, and noted studies are underway to add graphene to create a super battery.

However, Brazil’s lithium reserve, which is the world’s seventh-largest, is more interesting to Musk since his company Tesla is shifting to lithium iron phosphate batteries for its electric vehicles.

Elected through social networks in 2018, Bolsonaro described Musk as a freedom crusader and that the businessman’s intention to buy Twitter for $44 billion announced in April was a “breath of hope”.


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