Capitalism in space: Even as SpaceX is rolling out the internet service from its growing Starlink satellite constellation while Amazon’s own Kuiper constellation languishes in development, the two companies are in a battle over the orbits of their respective constellations.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Tuesday, as his company works to persuade Federal Communications Commission officials that it should allow SpaceX to move some of its Starlink satellites to lower altitudes than originally planned.
Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has been among companies that have disputed SpaceX’s request, on the grounds that the modification would interfere with other satellites.
“It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation,” Musk said in a tweet.
Amazon responded to Musk’s comment in a statement to CNBC. “The facts are simple. We designed the Kuiper System to avoid interference with Starlink, and now SpaceX wants to change the design of its system. Those changes not only create a more dangerous environment for collisions in space, but they also increase radio interference for customers. Despite what SpaceX posts on Twitter, it is SpaceX’s proposed changes that would hamstring competition among satellite systems. It is clearly in SpaceX’s interest to smother competition in the cradle if they can, but it is certainly not in the public’s interest,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
SpaceX in its own response to the FCC has noted “that Amazon representatives have had ’30 meetings to oppose SpaceX’ but ‘no meetings to authorize its own system,’ arguing that the technology giant is attempting ‘to stifle competition.'”
Both companies appear to have a point. Amazon is planning its system under an agreed-to arrangement where its orbits would not conflict with SpaceX’s. To permit SpaceX to change the deal and expand its orbital territory into Amazon’s threatens their system.
At the same time, that Amazon has been so slow to launch its system is something the FCC will not take kindly to. Companies get FCC licensing approval on the condition that they deliver within a certain time frame. Amazon appears to be taking a bit too much time, and SpaceX is trying to take advantage of this fact.
I suspect the FCC will deny SpaceX’s request, but will also tell Amazon that it had better start launching its satellites soon, or else the FCC will change its mind and give SpaceX that orbital territory.
Overall, the slowness of Amazon to launch Kuiper seems to fit the operational pace of Jeff Bezos’ other space company, Blue Origin. Lots of talk, but relatively little action. At some point the talk has to stop and Bezos’ companies have got to start delivering.
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