Amazon responds to Elon Musk's accusations of impeding SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet plans

Founder of Amazon as well as space company Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, speaks about the future of commercial space travel.
Brent Lewis | Denver Post | Getty Images

The satellite internet projects of the two richest men on the planet continue to spar behind-the-scenes with federal regulators, with Amazon on Thursday clarifying its position in response to recent accusations from Elon Musk and SpaceX that Jeff Bezos‘ company is attempting to “stifle competition” in the sector.

Representatives of Amazon spoke to Federal Communications Commission officials earlier this week, doubling down on its position that the FCC should not approve SpaceX’s modification request for parts of its Starlink satellite network. Amazon and SpaceX are working to build space-based internet networks — called Kuiper and Starlink, respectively — by launching thousands of satellites into orbit, known in the industry as a constellation.

While Amazon emphasized that it “supports the ability of operators to modify their system designs,” the company argued that SpaceX’s proposed changes to Starlink are too significant to be considered as a simple modification by the FCC. Rather, Amazon says the FCC should consider Starlink as a “newly designed system” and include it in a broader regulatory processing round that was open when SpaceX submitted the request last year.

“Doing so would be consistent with Commission precedent, protect the public interest, encourage coordination, and promote competition,” Amazon corporate counsel Mariah Dodson Shuman wrote in a letter to the FCC.

Amazon is not alone in pushing back on Starlink’s modification request, with satellite operators Viasat, SES, and Kepler Communications also filing objections.

The FCC dispute between SpaceX and Amazon spilled into public view last week, when Musk took to Twitter to allege that his competitor is attempting “to hamstring Starlink,” adding that Kuiper “is at best several years away from operation.” While Amazon has yet to announce when its first Kuiper satellites will launch, the FCC’s authorization of the system last year requires that the company deploy half of its planned satellites within six years. That represents Amazon deploying about 1,600 satellites in orbit by July 2026.

SpaceX’s modification request would entail moving about 2,800 satellites in the initial phase of the Starlink constellation to a lower altitude orbit than the FCC had authorized. So far the FCC has yet to make a decision on the proposal, although the regulator granted SpaceX a smaller request to deploy 10 satellites last month into a lower than planned orbit.

60 Starlink satellites deploy into orbit after the company’s 17th mission.

Amazon’s concern with SpaceX’s modification focuses around issues of safety and interference, with the company arguing that the Starlink change “would significantly increase interference to Kuiper” and other satellite systems, while also making Starlink “more susceptible to interference from Kuiper” and others.

SpaceX director David Goldman told the FCC in January that Starlink’s modification would “be able to achieve the advantages of lower altitudes without causing a significant increase in interference.” Additionally, Goldman highlighted that Amazon representatives have had “30 meetings to oppose SpaceX” but “no meetings to authorize its own system,” which he interpreted as an attempt to stifle competition.

But, while SpaceX argued that Amazon and other companies “cherry pick data … to reach misleading claims of interference,” Kuiper’s Shuman alleged that SpaceX “omitted” comparative data from its analysis. Shuman said that data shows Starlink’s modification “increases interference into Kuiper” connectivity stations on the ground.

A Project Kuiper engineer sets up a a prototype antenna for a test.

Both companies’ satellite networks represent ambitious projects, with SpaceX, like Amazon, saying its network will cost about $10 billion or more to build. SpaceX leadership has previously estimated that Starlink could bring in as much as $30 billion a year, or more than 10 times the annual revenue of its rocket business.

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