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Amazon fires back at SpaceX in satellite war of words

Amazon laid out out a laundry list of SpaceX’s regulatory tussles today in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission, marking the latest chapter in a bare-knuckles battle over broadband satellite constellations.

The letter — written by C. Andrew Keisner, lead counsel for Amazon’s multibillion-dollar Project Kuiper satellite project — argues that SpaceX has run roughshod over regulatory requirements, and that SpaceX lambastes anyone who seeks to call the company to account.

“Whether it is launching satellites with unlicensed antennas, launching rockets without approval, building an unapproved launch tower, or reopening 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, and those who insist upon or even simply request compliance are deserving of derision and ad hominem attacks,” Keisner wrote.

This comes in response to SpaceX’s complaint last week that Amazon is “more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay” its competitors.

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Kymeta hooks up with OneWeb’s internet satellites

Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp., the mobile connectivity company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has joined forces with OneWeb to test satellite broadband services that make use of Kymeta’s u8 flat-panel antenna system.

“I’m very happy to report back that the tests were fantastic,” Neville Meijers, Kymeta’s chief strategy and marketing officer, told me. “Both sets of management were extremely pleased with the performance of the antenna.”

Meijers said that the tests of satellite acquisition, tracking and throughput — conducted in July in Toulouse, France — should bode well for providing always-there mobile connectivity for first responders as well as for government, military and enterprise customers.

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Elon Musk goads Jeff Bezos as space spat escalates

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has fired a fresh volley of tart tweets at Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin space venture, in the midst of a regulatory tussle over SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation and Amazon’s competing Project Kuiper concept.

And this time, space lasers are involved.

The spark that lit Musk’s latest flame war came after SpaceX sought the Federal Communications Commission’s approval to amend plans for sending up tens of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global broadband service. The amendment would let SpaceX use its Starship mega-rocket, currently under development, to put its Gen2 satellites into an assortment of orbits.

In response, Amazon urged the FCC to turn back SpaceX’s request, saying that the amendment proposes “two mutually exclusive configurations” for the Starlink constellation and leaves too many details unsettled. And in response to thatSpaceX told the FCC that Amazon’s filing was “only the latest in its continuing efforts to slow down competition.”

SpaceX also complained that Amazon was neglecting to resolve the FCC’s concerns about Project Kuiper. The FCC gave conditional approval to Amazon’s plans more than a year ago — provided that the Kuiper satellites didn’t interfere with previously approved satellite systems, including Starlink. SpaceX noted that Amazon hasn’t yet filed documents showing how it planned to avoid interference and ensure safe satellite operations.

More than 1,700 first-generation Starlink satellites have already been launched in accordance with previous FCC approvals, and the internet service is currently in expanded beta testing.

The Starlink spat comes amid the backdrop of legal protests that Bezos’ other big brainchild, Blue Origin, has filed against NASA for awarding a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX. Because of Blue Origin’s lawsuit, NASA and SpaceX have suspended work to adapt Starship as the landing system for a crewed mission to the moon, which is currently set for as early as 2024. (That date seems increasingly unlikely, however, and not just because of the lawsuit.)

In today’s tweets, Musk touched on the FCC filings as well as the lunar lander dispute, referring to Bezos without mentioning him by name.

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Facebook’s satellite team switches over to Amazon

Facebook has struck a deal to have more than a dozen of its wireless internet experts move over to Amazon to work on its Project Kuiper satellite broadband network, The Information reported today.

An Amazon spokesperson told me that the report was accurate.

Such a deal represents another step in Amazon’s efforts to get its Kuiper operation up and running — and try to catch up with SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, which already has more than more than 1,600 satellites in orbit and is expanding its beta program.

Amazon has vowed to spend more than $10 billion to get Project Kuiper off the ground. Under the terms of an authorization order issued by the Federal Communications Commission last July, Amazon has to have half of its planned 3,236-satellite constellation launched by mid-2026, and the rest by mid-2029.

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FCC clears SpaceX to shift Starlink satellite orbits

The Federal Communications Commission has given the go-ahead for SpaceX to modify the planned orbits for future satellites in its Starlink broadband internet constellation — a move that SpaceX says will result in improved, safer operations but has faced resistance from Amazon’s Project Kuiper and other rivals.

After the FCC issued its 57-page order, Amazon said its concerns were adequately addressed by the conditions that the commission placed on its approval.

The FCC authorized SpaceX to lower the primary operational altitude for 2,814 of its satellites from an originally specified range of between 1,100 to 1,200 kilometers (684 to 746 miles) to a range between 540 and 570 kilometers (336 to 354 miles). That’s in addition to 1,584 satellites previously cleared for the lower set of orbits.

SpaceX already has more than 1,300 satellites in low Earth orbit, and it’s in the process of expanding its beta testing program for Starlink’s satellite internet service. Sixty more satellites are due to be launched as early as Wednesday.

Eventually, SpaceX aims to offer global broadband access through a network that makes use of thousands more satellites. Those satellites are built at SpaceX’s growing facility in Redmond, Wash.

SpaceX says that the revised orbits should improve response times for the network — and that the lower orbits should make it easier to dispose of satellites once they’ve outlived their usefulness, by commanding them to take a fiery plunge through the atmosphere.

However, the newly authorized orbits come close to the 590- to 630-kilometer (367- to 391-mile) orbits that have been targeted for future satellites in Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation, which also aims to provide global broadband internet access.

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Amazon makes its first satellite launch deal

United Launch Alliance says it’s struck a deal for a series of nine launches of its Atlas V rocket to send satellites into low Earth orbit for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation.

Amazon emphasized that this is just the first wave for a 3,236-satellite network that’s designed to offer broadband access to billions of people.

“We’re determined to make affordable broadband a reality for customers and communities around the world,” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said today in a news release. “ULA is a fantastic partner that’s successfully launched dozens of missions for commercial and government customers, and we’re grateful for their support of Kuiper.”

Neither ULA nor Amazon announced a schedule for the launches, but under the terms of Amazon’s license from the Federal Communications Commission, half of the satellites have to be deployed by mid-2026.

Bezos is also the founder of the Blue Origin space venture, which is working on an orbital-class rocket known as New Glenn. That rocket isn’t expected to go into service until late 2022.

In contrast, the Atlas V has successfully executed more than 80 launches since 2002. Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, touted the Atlas V’s reputation as a “capable, reliable rocket.”

Badyal didn’t rule out selecting Blue Origin for a later round of launches. “We’ve designed our satellites and dispenser system to accommodate multiple launch vehicles — this gives us the flexibility to use many different rockets and providers to launch our satellite system,” he said.

Because Bezos is the sole owner of privately held Blue Origin, publicly held Amazon has to navigate a careful path as it selects launch providers for Project Kuiper. Decisions that appear to favor Blue Origin could spark questions about self-dealing.

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SpaceX expands its footprint in the Seattle area

SpaceX is leasing a 124,907-square-foot building complex that’s under construction in Redmond Ridge Business Park, east of Seattle, according to the latest industrial real estate market report from Kidder Mathews. Kidder Mathews, which listed the property for lease, says construction is slated for completion this fall.

The construction site, which takes in the business park’s Buildings 4 and 5 and offers up to 300 extra parking places nearby, is just a block away from SpaceX’s existing facilities at Redmond Ridge. Those facilities serve as the headquarters for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite development and manufacturing operation.

Eventually, SpaceX aims to provide global broadband internet access via a network of thousands of Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. More than 1,400 satellites already have been launched — including 60 that were sent into orbit today — and Starlink has been gradually expanding its “Better Than Nothing” beta offering.

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Satellite link tested in the Arctic’s deep freeze

Kymeta Corp. — the hybrid connectivity venture that’s based in Redmond, Wash. — says it has demonstrated how its flat-panel antenna can hook up with Kepler Communications’ satellite constellation for high-speed data transfers under the chilliest of circumstances.

It’s the latest team-up between Kymeta, which counts Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates among its backers; and Kepler, a Canadian space startup that graduated from the Techstars Seattle incubator program back in 2016.

Kepler is one of several companies that are putting satellites into low Earth orbit, or LEO — a group that also includes SpaceX and OneWeb, plus Amazon’s yet-to-be-launched Project Kuiper constellation.

Those other companies are focusing on consumer and enterprise internet access. In contrast, Kepler is concentrating on satellite-based, high-capacity networking for smart devices that make use of the Internet of Things. One of its leading products is called the Global Data Service.

Over the past winter, Kepler put Kymeta’s next-generation u8 satellite-cellular data service to the test in the Canadian Arctic community of Inuvik, where temperatures can drop to tens of degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Today the two companies announced that the cold-weather test was a success.

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Amazon stays out of ‘Kraken’ satellite mystery

An unnamed space company may have picked up a code name with Seattle connotations during negotiations for a satellite factory in Florida, but that doesn’t mean it’s associated with Amazon.

Amazon says its Project Kuiper broadband satellite mega-constellation isn’t “Project Kraken,” the mystery company that’s negotiating a business development deal with Space Florida.

Project Kraken’s existence came to light on March 17 during a meeting of Space Florida’s board of directors. Florida Politics reports that the code-named company is looking at Space Florida’s properties in the Cape Canaveral area as a potential site for a $300 million satellite factory that could create 2,000 jobs in Brevard County.