Musk vs Bezos in FCC row

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The planet’s two richest individuals, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are involved in a bitter slanging match over their satellite mega-constellations.

Their rival businesses, SpaceX and Project Kuiper, have lodged tit-for-tat almost daily filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with SpaceX saying that Amazon’s Kuiper is guilty of “stifling competition”.

SpaceX is already asking the FCC to reduce the heights of some of its Starlink satellites. Project Kuiper says that if the FCC agrees to the request then the new orbits will interfere with Kuiper’s plans.

The actual heights are crucial. Musk’s SpaceX request is to orbit 3,000 satellites at heights between 540-570 kms (and could wind up in orbits 30km above or below their licensed orbits). But Project Kuiper’s existing plan is to orbit its fleet at about 590 kms. Kuiper is arguing that at these close distances, there is a risk of collision and that Musk’s Starlink’s will interfere with Kuiper’s transmissions.

SpaceX brushed off these concerns in its January 22nd letter to the FCC, arguing that Project Kuiper had ‘cherry-picked’ its data and was ignoring the modifications SpaceX is proposing in its request for permission. The letter detailed three telephone conversations that SpaceX officials had held with FCC staffers.

Elon Musk also Tweeted on January 26th saying: “It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation”.

Hours later, Amazon bounced back with its response saying: “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”.

Bezos’s team added: “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.”

SpaceX insists that the modifications it is carrying out would not cause significant increased interference. SpaceX says that its competitors (which also include Viasat) “misrepresent the true results of the modification”. It also threw in one major fact: “Amazon lacks standing because its system is not authorised to launch”.


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