The battles between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have been extensive in 2021. Both are the richest men in the world, constantly switching between first and second place.
Musk and Bezos also run two of the most popular companies in the world. Amazon has a tight hold over ecommerce, while Tesla is looking to bring an age where cars no longer need to run on fuel.
However, Bezos and Musk have especially clashed in their battle for space dominance. The two men have competed on contract after contract, and they’ve steered their companies to greater heights this year.
Elon is Flouting Rules as He Pleases
Now, the competition is taking another turn as Amazon is now gunning for something close to Musk - Starlink. Early in September, Amazon wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking that the agency shouldn’t approve Starlink’s application for next-generation satellites. The company, which is currently working on a satellite and internet service provider of its own, explained that Elon Musk’s penchant for breaking the rules means that Starlink’s development is a bit of a danger for the internet age.
The letter was signed by Andrew Keisner, the lead counsel for Kuiper Systems - Amazon’s rival to Starlink. In it, Keisner explained that SpaceX and Starlink have had a lengthy history of breaking the rules and flouting regulations. Now that the company has asked for permission to build a second-generation of 30,000 satellites, the company is ready to break the rules again.
"Whether it is launching satellites with unlicensed antennas, launching rockets without approval, building an unapproved launch tower, or re-opening a factory in violation of a shelter-in-place order, the conduct of SpaceX and other Musk-led companies makes their view plain: rules are for other people, and those who insist upon or even simply request compliance are deserving of derision and ad hominem attacks," the letter emphasized.
Keisner pointed out that Starlink’s application describes two separate constellations of satellites instead of one. This, as he explained, is improper under the FCC’s regulations.
Keisner called for SpaceX to rework its proposal and only work on one constellation. He clarified that he isn’t seeking to block SpaceX’s efforts in their entirety. But, SpaceX should simply be made to comply with the same rules that everyone else has to deal with.
"SpaceX can do this as quickly as it wishes — and indeed could already have done so — and any delay that it suffers stems only from its refusal to acknowledge its mistake and fix it," the letter continued.
Starlink Goes on the Defensive
Not one to hold back, Musk has been on the offensive since the letter was published. In a response to Amazon, SpaceX explained that Amazon had not presented any facts to support its claim. The company added that the ecommerce giant is simply trying to prevent a fair review of its proposal by using “procedural gamesmanship.” It especially hammered the fact that it has so far been transparent in all its filings, while Amazon continues to obfuscate time and again.
This isn’t the first time that SpaceX and Amazon would have issues over Starlink and Kuiper. Musk called out Amazon in January, explaining that the company was trying to hamstring Starlink even though Kuiper Systems is years away from deployment at best. Amazon replied at the time as well, claiming that Starlink’s proposed system will create a hazardous environment in space, allowing for satellite collisions.
Amazon added that the design for Starlink will also make it more difficult for competitors in the satellite systems industry.
Two Companies, One Vision
Interestingly, the lack of progress on Kuiper was another theme for SpaceX in its reply to the recent complaints. The company especially urged the FCCC to evaluate its next-generation satellite proposal based on its merits, and not what some competitors are saying about it. Once more, it pointed out that Kuiper had yet to make any progress with its satellite.
Kuiper Systems has a similar vision to Starlink. But, the company is looking to deploy about 3,236 satellites - a vision that it isn't expected to fulfill for the next decade. On the other hand, Starlink has moved to the beta stage and is now dealing with hundreds of thousands of people waiting for its internet connectivity to begin. Starlink also has over 1,700 satellites orbiting the Earth right now, and it plans to expand significantly using the next-generation satellites.
It’s highly unlikely that Amazon will be able to stall Starlink’s progress. At the very worst, the company could force SpaceX to play by some arbitrarily tighter rules. But, given how much progress has been made on Starlink, any real delays seem impossible at this point.