Elon Musk has criticized fellow centibillionaire and space cowboy Jeff Bezos for filing lawsuits against the former’s aerospace company SpaceX.
Earlier this month, Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin sued NASA after it lost a critical government contract to put astronauts on the Moon to SpaceX. This has had the effect of delaying SpaceX’s own work on the project. And now, this week, Amazon has urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to dismiss newly-submitted plans by SpaceX to launch another cluster of satellites to power its satellite internet service Starlink.
Replying to a story about the latter complaint, Musk tweeted: “Turns out Besos [sic] retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX …”
The recent complaint from Amazon doesn’t seem to be a formal lawsuit but rather a letter of protest. And, technically, it’s not that Amazon doesn’t want SpaceX to launch more Starlink satellites at all, but that it thinks the company should be clearer in its plans to do so.
Starlink is currently powered by around 1,740 low earth orbit satellites, which serve an estimated 90,000 customers. SpaceX is gearing up to launch a tranche of 30,000 second-generation satellites to improve the service, and so has to inform the FCC exactly where they will be positioned around the Earth. Amazon’s complaint is that SpaceX is asking the FCC to approve two entirely different orbital configurations to be chosen between later.
“SpaceX’s novel approach of applying for two mutually exclusive configurations is at odds with both the Commission’s rules and public policy and we urge the Commission to dismiss this amendment,” writes Mariah Dodson Shuman, corporate counsel for Amazon subsidiary Kuiper Systems.
Shuman says that having to grapple with two possible configurations “doubles the technical effort” faced by other operators — including Amazon’s Kuiper System, which has yet to launch any satellites of its own. These parties will have to review “interference and orbital debris concerns” raised by two separate satellite configurations.
Shuman’s preference is that SpaceX should pick a plan and stick with it, and that approving two configurations sets a bad precedent by allowing future satellite operators to hedge their bets while creating more work for the entire industry. She concludes: “Accordingly, the Commission should enforce its rules, dismiss SpaceX’s Amendment, and invite SpaceX to resubmit its amendment after settling on a single configuration for its Gen2 System.”