Over the weekend, a SpaceX Falcon 9 boosted a record 143 small satellites into a polar orbit in the company’s first dedicated “rideshare” mission, a response to the growing demand for low-cost access to space by smaller, non-traditional companies and institutions.
The launch follows on from a launch the week before that placed 60 of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites in orbit.
SpaceX aims to provide high-speed internet across the globe, but it has some competition in the form of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.
The companies are at war, pitting Bezos and Elon Musk against each other.
According to CNN, SpaceX says that Amazon is “stifling competition”, while Amazon says that SpaceX is trying to “smother competition in the cradle”.
Those are fighting words.
The rivalry started when SpaceX tried to modify its license for Starlink (it’s already launched upwards of 900 satellites) which would allow it to place a few of its satellites in a lower orbit.
The company has permission from the US federal government to launch thousands of satellites to increase the size of the Starlink constellation.
This would put Starlink in the way of Project Kuiper, which Amazon has in the works, having obtained a license for the project.
Amazon’s current plans include putting some of its satellites into orbit roughly 590 km (or about 366 miles) above the Earth’s surface. The changes to its license that SpaceX is advocating for would allow the company to orbit nearly 3,000 of its satellites at an altitude of between 540 and 570 km (336 to 354 miles), which Amazon argues is too close for comfort.
Amazon is arguing that the proximity of the Starlink satellites would interfere with its coverage.
But SpaceX has brushed off those concerns. SpaceX’s director of satellite policy, David Goldman, said in a January 22 letter to the FCC that its competitor only came to those conclusions by “cherrypicking data” and “ignoring the majority of the modification” SpaceX has proposed.
Musk took to Twitter to make a statement:
SpaceX dismissed Amazon’s $AMZN protest of the modification as “attempts to stifle competition”, saying Amazon makes “misleading claims of interference” and emphasizing that the competing Project Kuiper network represents “still nascent plans” pic.twitter.com/Ua2CpvM9O0
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) January 25, 2021
Amazon fired back, saying that it was being nice, and “designed the Kuiper System to avoid interference with Starlink, and now SpaceX wants to change the design of its system”.
“Those changes not only create a more dangerous environment for collisions in space, but they also increase radio interference for customers,” the statement reads.
“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.”
To be fair, critics are concerned that the rapidly increasing numbers of satellites orbiting Earth, in the absence of government regulation and control, will translate into an increased threat of potentially catastrophic collisions.
The one thing that both companies agree on is that in occupying the same space, there are increased risks of satellites colliding.
SpaceX says that once the satellites have done their job, they will utilise their onboard propulsion system to deorbit over the course of a few months, and burn up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.
Space debris also contributes to two of the top three risks faced by the International Space Station.
If you’d like to check it out, here’s the SpaceX Transporter-1 launch sending 143 satellites into orbit:
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