SpaceX Is A Hypocrite With “Shopworn” Argument Says Amazon In Starlink Fight

Ramish Zafar

This is not investment advice. The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. has a disclosure and ethics policy.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s (SpaceX) subsidiary Space Exploration Holdings, LLC. and retail giant Amazon's Kuiper subsidiary continue to submit strongly worded responses to each other at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Their spar took a strong turn yesterday after Amazon filed a blistering response to Starlink's reply to Amazon questioning Starlink's latest FCC filings. Starlink plans to launch roughly 30,000 new spacecraft as part of its second-generation (Gen2) satellites, and it has requested the FCC to let it change the satellites' orbital parameters to spread out the spacecraft evenly for global coverage and to accommodate SpaceX's Starship next-generation launch vehicle system currently under development in Boca Chica, Texas.

Elon Musk and SpaceX Are Above Accountability Implies Amazon In FCC Filing

In Amazon's latest response to Starlink, the company aims at SpaceX's chief Mr. Elon Musk. It claims that Mr. Musk and his companies only operate outside the rules set for others. It cites several incidents where both SpaceX and Tesla ignored regulators, to boost this notion and outlines that, "[I]f the FCC regulated hypocrisy, SpaceX would be keeping the Commission very busy."

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The instances Amazon cites include a SpaceX test launch in December last year, which went against the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) instructions, Mr. Musk's decision to open Tesla, Inc's Fremont production facility in May last year and SpaceX's decision to build out its launch facilities in Boca, Chica Texas despite a pending FAA review.

Additionally, Amazon's Andrew Keisner also calls SpaceX, a hypocrite by using four-year-old comments from Starlink submitted in 2017 in response to filings from Audacy, Viasat, WorldWu and Theia. According to Mr. Keisner, while Starlink dubs Amazon's opposition as "anti-competitive," it continues to demonstrate similar behavior not only against the satellite companies mentioned above but also against a consortium of multi-channel video data distribution service (MVDDS) providers.

The first page of Amazon's latest reply to Starlink directly targets SpaceX chief Elon Musk and his companies. Image: FCC IBFS File Number SATAMD2021081800105

This opposition claims that while Starlink wants others to adhere to the FCC's rules, it is unwilling to follow the rules itself, as shown by the recent Gen2 modification request.

In particular, a tweet from Mr. Musk seems to have caught Amazon's attention. The company's remarks to the FCC vilify Starlink and SpaceX for mischaracterizing Amazon as "anticompetitive" for simply identifying a rule violation. These remarks characterize a tweet made by the SpaceX chief in late August as trying to influence regulators via social media.

In this tweet, Musk, while responding to Amazon's initial opposition to the Gen2 modification, had targetted former Amazon chief Mr. Jeff Bezos and stated that:

Turns out Besos retired in order to pursue a full-time job filing lawsuits against SpaceX …

1:27 AM · Aug 27, 2021·Twitter for iPhone 

An excerpt from Amazon's presentation that was submitted during its previous brawl with Starlink. To demonstrate how ta Starlink modification would affect it once Amazon's Kuiper satellite constellation is deployed, the company highlighted potential interference data for both active and all visible Starlink Satellites. This slide shows interference for all visible Starlink satellites. Image: Kuiper Systems LLC November 16, 2020 Ex Parte FCC International Bureau File Number: SATMOD2020041700037

Amazon Should Focus On Its Kuiper Satellite Constellation Instead Of Delaying Starlink Says Goldman

Starlink and Amazon's back and forth at the Commission reached its peak earlier this year before the regulatory body accepted the former's application to lower the altitudes of its satellites and change parameters for the ground stations.

Amazon had argued that the potential of interference with its Kuiper satellite internet constellation, when deployed, increased significantly due to the change, and the company was joined by others, such as DISH Corporation, who had asked Starlink to modify its FCC license to ensure its satellites would not use more than one beam to geographically serve users.

The fight ended when the FCC accepted Starlink's modification request in April after SpaceX accepted Amazon's demands to limit its satellites' altitude and DISH's demand to modify the Starlink license.

Mr. Keisner's response came as Starlink's David Goldman submitted a hard-hitting reply to Amazon's initial opposition to Starlink's multiple launch and orbital configurations. While currently, the internet service's first-generation spacecraft are serving its users, Starlink had submitted plans for Gen2, or second-generation, satellites early last year.

Starlink modified these plans in August by submitting two configurations to the FCC. These changed the satellites' orbital parameters over the original Gen2 application submitted in May last year. They also included separate orbital configurations for launch with SpaceX's operational Falcon 9 rocket and its under-development Starship platform.

Starlink second gen satellites
Starlink second generation Falcon
Starlink second generation original

In response, Amazon had argued that the multiple submissions did not follow Commission precedent and would encourage speculative applications by other companies in the future. This would increase the burden of evaluating multiple configurations within an application on the FCC and other interested parties. It also outlined that Starlink's modification request violated FCC rules by leaving every major orbital parameter unsettled.

Mr. Goldman had countered Amazon by stating that instead of focusing on its own satellite constellation, it was dedicated to hindering Starlink at every chance available. The executive, while commenting on the lack of interference data submitted by Amazon, called these efforts anticompetitive and stated that:

But while Amazon has filed nothing with the Commission to address these conditions on its own license for nearly 400 days, it took only 4 days to object to SpaceX’s next-generation NGSO system.2 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. While Amazon has waited 15 months to explain how its system works, it has lodged objections to SpaceX on average about every 16 days this year.

He alleged that Amazon's regulatory filings and objections were dedicated to preventing it from "further falling behind" competitors. Additionally, Mr. Goldman rejected Amazon's argument that the Starlink modification would prove burdensome by stating that since the company has had plenty of resources to evaluate previous Starlink applications, it should find no burden in evaluating the current one either.

Mr. Keisner countered both these arguments by outlining that his Starlink counterpart has failed to provide any deadline that Amazon has missed and that while Amazon does have adequate resources to evaluate filings with multiple configurations, other parties such as scientists and satellite operators, will find it difficult to do so.

Building on this, the Amazon executive stated that instead of being anticompetitive, his company's comments against the Starlink changes were, in fact, protecting competition by "keeping the door open for prospective licensees, while SpaceX's position would close it" and Starlink's allegations of anti-competitiveness were "shopworn".

He painted Amazon's opposition as being "in service of regulatory parity and safeguarding the Commission’s licensing process." According to him, this is because if multiple operators submit multiple constellation configurations in a single application, it can take "years" for the FCC to analyze and rule on satellite operators' plans.

Ending his reply with a heavy heart, Mr. Keisner stated that neither the Commission nor the satellite operators should work on the segment under a hostile environment created by SpaceX. He echoed these sentiments by outlining:

Neither should have to do this hard and honest work while being assailed, vilified, and intimidated on social media and in every other regulatory and legal fora. None of this will change until SpaceX and Musk realize that the rules are not just for others—they apply to them as well. If SpaceX and Musk continue to hold themselves above the rules, they should buckle up: they will only draw further protest from Amazon and others who want to see rules applied to everyone equally. Musk and SpaceX will likely continue to respond as they have here, and the chaotic and resource draining cycle will continue.

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