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Jeff Bezos And Elon Musk Are Now Butting Heads Over The Small Satellite Internet Business

By News Creatives Authors , in Billionaires , at August 27, 2021

Two of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, are playing out another public spat over their space businesses, this time in the small satellite internet space.

The latest battle, which follows news last week that Bezos’ Blue Origin had filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government’s award of a $2.89 billion contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX for future moon landings, arrives in the form of a strongly worded letter from Amazon sent to the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that SpaceX’s plans for its Starlink network were breaking the rules on satellite deployment. 

Amazon subsidiary Kuiper Systems, not a part of Blue Origin, is a rival to Musk’s Starlink, was founded in 2019 as a broadband satellite internet constellation that could provide broadband-speed internet connectivity from space. Starlink’s beta service is currently operating in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, France and nine other countries, according to a tweet from Musk last week.

Starlink has a significant advantage over Amazon with over 100,000 customer terminals (referred to by SpaceX as “Dishy McFlatface”) shipped, according to Musk earlier in August, offering download speeds of around 50 mbps. Kuiper Systems, meanwhile, won FCC approval last year to build a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation capable, it claims, of providing “reliable, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” claiming in a statement that Amazon will invest more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper over an unspecified period of time.

But Musk wants to push home his first-mover advantage, and for its second generation of satellites, SpaceX has described two possible systems and means of delivery and then asked for permission from the FCC to do what’s best (and cheapest) for them at a later date. The difference between the two so-called configurations boils down to just how Starlink will arrange its 30,000 satellites—either using its new fully reusable Starship vehicle, ideal for heavy lifting, or if that’s not yet available, the smaller but “reliable” Falcon 9 rocket family that’s already successfully recorded over 100 missions.

But Amazon, in short, is not happy. Tim Farrar, president of consulting and research firm TMF Associates in California, says they have a point. “SpaceX has described two possible systems and asked for permission to choose later. Given that the choice will impact how Amazon operates (and perhaps even designs) its own system, it is understandable that they are unhappy,” he told Forbes by email.

Amazon, in its letter to the FCC, says, “SpaceX’s novel approach of applying for two mutually exclusive configurations is at odds with both the Commission’s rules and public policy,” adding that, “by leaving nearly every major detail unsettled—such as altitude, inclination and even the total number of satellites—SpaceX’s application fails every test [of] that section.”

Musk, replying to a tweet from a reporter about Amazon’s letter to the FCC, hit back on Twitter on Friday: “Turns out Besos [sic] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX.” So far, there is no sign of a lawsuit; the “ex-parte” letter from Kuiper Systems to the FCC is merely a complaint. A spokesperson for Amazon’s Kuiper Systems did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amazon is not the only company to have a problem with SpaceX’s approach to the deployment of its Starlink constellation. Spacenews reported in July that satellite operator Viasat had seen a federal appeals court reject its move to stop SpaceX from enlarging its Starlink mega-constellation.

The First Musk Vs. Bezos Space Spat

The latest spat between Musk and Bezos follows an argument between the two men’s space exploration firms over the award from NASA of a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to build an Artemis moon landing program.

NASA initially promised to award multiple contracts for the program but later changed its mind and awarded a single contract to SpaceX in April. Bezos and Blue Origin challenged the decision with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, arguing the agency “unreasonably evaluated all three proposals,” but the U.S. government rebuffed the complaint, claiming it was “reasonable” and that NASA was within its right to be able to award one contract. Blue Origin filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government earlier this month and in a statement sent to Forbes, said, “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition and ensure a safe return to the Moon for America.”


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