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Critics take aim at broadband satellite constellations

SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb say their satellite mega-constellations will make broadband internet goodness available to billions of people around the world who are unserved or underserved — but some say those promises have to be weighed against the potential perils.

These critics cite the risk of catastrophic satellite collisions, concerns about cybersecurity and worries about environmental and health impacts  — including impacts on astronomical observations and the beauties of the night sky.

Such concerns are likely to intensify as SpaceX and OneWeb add to their current fleets of satellites in low Earth orbit, and as Amazon gets set to deploy more than 3,200 satellites for its Project Kuiper broadband network. If all the plans laid out for those ventures come to pass, tens of thousands of satellites could be put into orbit over the next decade.

Early today, SpaceX sent its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total number of satellites launched to 1,265.

The latest challenge to the mega-constellations was filed today with the Federal Communications Commission. A coalition of policy groups is calling on the FCC to put a 180-day hold on further approvals for broadband data satellite deployments, in order to conduct a more thoroughgoing assessment of the risks.

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Electric motor venture gets an $80M boost

Turntide Technologies, a Silicon Valley venture that’s retooling electric motors for the 21st century, says it has completed an $80 million funding round that was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech fund created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Other investors include the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, actor Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition Ventures, Keyframe Capital, Fifth Wall and Captain Planet LP. The newly announced round brings Turntide’s total funding to $180 million.

Turntide’s executive chairman and CEO, Ryan Morris, emphasized that the company’s backers are looking for a payoff that goes beyond dollars and cents.

“Our investors recognize the critical role that technology will play in our fight against climate change,” he said today in a news release. “To curb the carbon emissions driving this crisis, we all need to change the way that we use energy. That starts with modernizing the technology that is currently powering our world.”

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Will space become Jeff Bezos’ final frontier?

What will Amazon without Jeff Bezos as CEO look like? It could look a lot like Bezos’ biggest personal passion project — Blue Origin, which is working to send people and payloads on space trips ranging from suborbital hops to the moon and beyond.

There’s already speculation that Bezos’ decision to step back from the CEO role and serve as Amazon’s executive chairman will free him up to devote more time to Blue Origin. After all, he’s basically come around to admitting that he founded Amazon in part to earn the billions he’d need for his own space effort.

But Bezos has picked up a lot of other passions since his days in Princeton, when he headed the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

That’s reflected in the email he sent to Amazon employees, announcing a tectonic shift for the world’s richest individual (at least as of today … sorry, Elon Musk).

“As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions,” Bezos wrote. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

The order in which Bezos lays out his list may well reflect the priority of his passions, especially considering that he’s a seasoned list-maker.

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Elon Musk and Amazon stir up a satellite battle

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Amazon’s Project Kuiper escalated a different kind of Star Wars today, over the orbital parameters for their rival satellite constellations.

Musk complained that Amazon’s protest would “hamstring” SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites, while Amazon replied that SpaceX was seeking to “smother competition in the cradle if it can.”

It’s just the latest space spat between the world’s two richest individuals, pitting Musk against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

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FAA rules could smooth the way for drone deliveries

After months of feedback and fine-tuning, the Federal Aviation Administration today issued its final versions of safety rules for drones that fly over people and at night — including the drones that Amazon is developing to make package deliveries.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Draft versions of the rules were issued a year ago, kicking off a review period during which the FAA received about 53,000 comments. The final rules take effect in about two months.

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How Amazon’s cloud and satellite ventures mesh

Amazon Web Services and the Project Kuiper satellite internet venture may be separate domains of Jeff Bezos’ business empire, but even Amazon’s executives admit there’s a lot of potential for synergy.

That’s one reason why the prospects for Project Kuiper shouldn’t be underestimated, even though Amazon is lagging behind SpaceX and OneWeb in the commercial satellite space race.

Project Kuiper announced last year that it intends to put 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit, creating a constellation that would provide broadband internet access to the billions of people around the world who lack high-speed connections.

“Access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward. … It’s also a very good business for Amazon,” CEO Jeff Bezos said at last year’s re:MARS conference.

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Amazon’s Project Kuiper shows off satellite antennas

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet said when it’ll start launching satellites or providing broadband internet access from above, but it is sharing details about how customers will get their data.

The $10 billion project, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit, will use an innovative type of phased-array antenna that overlays one set of tiny elements on top of another set, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band,” the company said.

Amazon says the innovation should result in a lightweight, low-cost customer terminal with an antenna that’s only 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. The hardware is being developed primarily at Project Kuiper’s research and development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased-array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal.”

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Quantum computing goes public at Amazon

Eight months after unveiling its Amazon Braket quantum computing platform, Amazon Web Services says the cloud-based service is officially open for business.

In a video that pokes a bit of fun at the weirdness of quantum concepts, Bill Vass, vice president for AWS technology, says Braket serves as a “launch pad for people to go explore quantum computing.”

In contrast to the rigid one-or-zero realm of classical computing, Braket and similar platforms take advantage of the fuzziness of quantum algorithms, in which quantum bits — or “qubits” — can represent multiple values simultaneously until the results are read out.

Quantum computing is particularly well-suited for tackling challenges ranging from cryptography — which serves as the foundation of secure online commerce — to the development of new chemical compounds for industrial and medical use. Some of the first applications could well be in the realm of system optimization, including the optimization of your financial portfolio.

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Amazon commits $10B to satellites after FCC’s OK

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Amazon’s plans for a Project Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites that would provide broadband internet access across a wide swath of the globe — but on the condition that it doesn’t unduly interfere with previously authorized satellite ventures.

In response, Amazon said it would invest more than $10 billion in the project. “We’re off to the races,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.

The FCC’s non-interference requirements and other conditions are laid out in a 24-page order that was adopted on July 29 and released today. The ruling addresses objections registered by Amazon’s rivals — including SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat.

Project Kuiper’s satellites are to be launched in five phases, and service would begin once Amazon launched the first 578 satellites. Under the terms of the FCC’s order, Amazon will have to launch half of its satellites by mid-2026, and the rest of them by mid-2029.

Amazon had sought to vie on an equal footing with constellation operators whose plans had been previously authorized by the FCC, but the commission said that in fairness, Project Kuiper would have to give deference to those plans. The FCC said that it expected Amazon’s mega-constellation rivals to act in good faith to resolve radio interference concerns.

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FCC chief tweets support for Amazon satellite plan

The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, says he’s proposing approval of Amazon’s plan to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit for a broadband internet constellation known as Project Kuiper … with conditions.

In a tweet, Pai said he shared his proposal today with colleagues on the commission.

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