The ongoing pissing match between Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX reached new levels of pettiness on Wednesday with a letter filed by Amazon to the Federal Communications Commission regarding the ways in which Musk plans to expand its growing satellite network.
“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,” the letter reads. The doc was written by C. Andrew Keisner, the lead counsel for Amazon’s Kuiper Systems subsidiary—a longtime rival to Musk’s own Starlink project.
In the race to launch low-orbit satellites, Starlink is clearly in the lead. The company has already begun using its network of roughly 1,700 satellites to offer internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people across the globe via Starlink’s beta program, while Kuiper’s current plans are to launch its first satellites in 2023.
The driving force behind the current feud is that Starlink wants to throw up even more satellites into orbit before Kuiper has even gotten its foot in the door. Back in May 2020, SpaceX applied for a license with the FCC to launch another 30,000 satellites on top of the roughly 1,700 it currently has right now. This past August, SpaceX amended its initial FCC proposal, this time asking the Comission for permission to launch one of two distinct satellite configurations for its second-gen satellite system, instead of the single set initially proposed. Amazon objected not long after, telling the FCC that SpaceX’s new proposal was “at odds with both the commission’s rules and public policy.”
Elon Musk being Elon Musk, replied with a snarky tweet, followed by SpaceX filing its own rebuttal with the FCC last week. The letter essentially called out Amazon’s awful habit of dominating just about everything it touches, saying that Bezos’s complaints were nothing but a “continuation of efforts by the Amazon family of companies to hinder competitors.”
Smash cut to this week’s letter, where Amazon called SpaceX’s response an “overheated response to an uncontroversial argument,” adding that the company seemed to favor “misinformation, ad hominem attacks, and a belief that it can influence regulators via social media” instead of, well, staying on topic.
“This path will take longer and inconvenience many, but is sure to lead to the same place,” the letter reads. “The approach comes from a playbook familiar to any regulator faced with the unfortunate task of evenhandedly applying its rules to SpaceX: concede nothing, ignore rules wherever possible, and when all else fails, malign those that invoke them.”
In a lot of ways, these alleged tactics might sound familiar to anyone who follows the legal troubles dogging Musk’s fast-and-loose Twitter persona—but coming from a company known for using tax loopholes, deploying anti-union tactics, and dangerous working conditions, Amazon’s arguments sound more like asinine whining than anything else.
We’ve reached out to Starlink and Kuiper for comment on the filing and will update here when we hear back.
Correction: An original version of this post incorrectly stated that Starlink’s current constellation included roughly 10,000 satellites in orbit, rather than 1,700. We’ve corrected the error, and have added further details on Amazon’s FCC complaint to clarify that the company did not object to SpaceX’s satellite internet plan in its entirety, but specifically to the amendment SpaceX filed in August.