Amazon Files Protest Against SpaceX’s Application for Upgraded Starlink Satellites

Earlier this month, SpaceX filed for FCC approval to launch upgraded Starlink Gen2 System satellites, which are capable of generating more power than the existing generation of Starlink satellites. Now Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a competing satellite Internet service provider, has filed a protest with the FCC.

SpaceX filed two possible configurations for the Starlink Gen2 System satellites but plans to use only one. Project Kuiper alleges in its complaint that SpaceX violated the FCC’s rules by failing to specify that it planned to file more than one configuration.

“The Commission’s rules require that SpaceX settle the details of its proposed amendment before filing its application, not after. 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,” Project Kuiper corporate counsel Mariah Dodson Shuman said in a letter to the FCC.

If the new generation of Starlink satellites is approved, SpaceX could launch as many as 30,000 of them. It already has 1,740 satellites in orbit, nearly enough to provide global coverage for Internet access. According to data from Speedtest, the constellation is already approaching “traditional” broadband speeds and response times.

Some critics say that launching that many Starlink satellites could clutter up the night sky, interfering with astronomers’ observations from ground-based telescopes and increasing the risk of collisions with other satellites. SpaceX says that the upgraded satellites will include an improved method for deorbiting the satellites when their useful lifespan is over.

Project Kuiper has not yet launched any satellites. The move could be seen as part of a bigger fight between SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and former Amazon CEO and current Blue Origin boss Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin is currently firing salvos in its fight with SpaceX over a contract for NASA’s Human Landing System, which will land NASA’s astronauts on the Moon.

Most recently, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA, claiming that it made errors in awarding the contract to SpaceX. The Government Accountability Office has already sided with NASA’s analysis that SpaceX is both more technically capable of producing the HLS and bringing it in at nearly half the cost of Blue Origin’s bid. NASA has put the contract with SpaceX to develop the HLS on hold until the lawsuit can be resolved.

This has led Elon Musk to take the usual potshots at Jeff Bezos on Twitter:

Project Kuiper’s FCC complaint isn’t a lawsuit (yet) but isn’t the first time that Starlink has faced regulatory challenges from competitors with the FCC acting as a referee. ViaSat has previously filed an environmental complaint with the FCC and then a court case challenging Starlink’s license to launch satellites, both of which apparently went nowhere. Elon Musk sniped that ViaSat’s leadership just hates competition, which might not be unfair considering that Speedtest data indicates that ViaSat’s constellation is nowhere close to capable of matching Starlink’s speed and latency.

Starlink recently delivered its 100,000th terminal and operates in twelve countries. It has a waitlist of more than 500,000 potential subscribers who made a deposit for Starlink access when it comes out of beta.