Amazon, SpaceX scrap over Starlink's 'Gen2' plans

Amazon's Kuiper Systems subsidiary and SpaceX are squaring off at the FCC over SpaceX's plans for a "Gen2" system that envisions a massive constellation of heavier, but more powerful low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that can be delivered into orbit via SpaceX's new heavy-duty Starship rocket.

Boiled down, Kuiper Systems, a unit of Amazon that is developing its own satellite-based broadband platform, has urged the FCC to reject SpaceX's amended plan, which includes two possible satellite configurations. SpaceX countered that Amazon's move is merely a delay tactic designed to hinder competition.

In an ex parte filing with the FCC on August 25, Amazon asked the FCC to dismiss SpaceX's Gen2 plan, which include two configurations that each call for the deployment of nearly 30,000 LEO satellites. Amazon argued that FCC rules require SpaceX to settle the details of its proposed amendment before filing its application, not after.

"Forcing both the Commission and interested parties to grapple with the interference concerns posed by two separate configurations doubles the technical effort of every operator faced with the task of reviewing the interference and orbital debris concerns raised by SpaceX's amendment," Mariah Dodson Shuman, corporate counsel for Kuiper Systems, wrote. "Accordingly, 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."

Amazon is trying to buy time, SpaceX claims

In a response filed on August 31, SpaceX views Amazon/Kuiper's complaint as petty, holding that the call for rejection is really about SpaceX providing "too much information about its next-generation constellation" to the FCC, and an attempt to slow competition as Amazon/Kuiper plays catchup.

"Amazon's recent missive is unfortunately only the latest in its continuing efforts to slow down competition, while neglecting to resolve the Commission's concerns about Amazon's own nongeostationary orbit ("NGSO") satellite system," David Goldman, director of satellite policy at SpaceX, wrote, calling on the FCC to quickly put SpaceX's application out for public comment. "Amazon's track record amply demonstrates that as it falls behind competitors, it is more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay those competitors from leaving Amazon even further behind."

Goldman goes on to suggest that Amazon/Kuiper is dragging its feet in providing interference- and debris-related details on its own proposed system, but has been quick to obsess over and object to SpaceX's Gen2 system.

"In fact, Amazon has not had a single meeting with the Commission this year about how it intends to resolve the Commission's interference or safety concerns, but it has had 15 meetings in that same span just about SpaceX," Goldman wrote. "While SpaceX has proceeded to deploy more than 1,700 satellites, Amazon has yet to even attempt to address the radiofrequency interference and orbital debris issues that must be resolved before Amazon can deploy its constellation."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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