Starlink changes its plans and puts a spoke in the wheel of Bezos’ project the American FCC will decide. But there is a lack of international rules the characters of what we are going to tell were the boatman Toffolo and the beautiful Lucietta, we would be inside the immortal Baruffe Chiozzotte by Carlo Goldoni, but the scene is not the beautiful Chioggia, but space and the two are Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the two richest men in the world.
If they want to fight each other to grab the best orbits and put each other out of business we could say that it’s their business, but the issue is damn important for all of us too, it’s never nice to risk being slaves to a monopoly. The quarrel is simple Elon Musk, with his hundreds of satellites of the Starlink constellation already in space, now launches dozens of them at a time, takes it out on Twitter with Jeff Bezos, who has just asked that the Federal Communications Commission, the Agency US federal government, which regulates, among other things, the launches of American satellites, denies Musk himself permission to change several of the orbits planned for his satellites already in orbit, or which have yet to leave. Not one or two satellites, but dozens.
Musk with his Starlink already has many in orbit, more than a thousand to date, but by the end of the year, it will be at least 1500. They are distributed on several different low orbital trajectories, from 400 kilometers above the ground up to about a thousand. From there they can distribute the Internet to the earth. In Musk’s plans, the final configuration of the Starlink constellation will be able to provide internet to every point on planet Earth, from the top of Everest to the center of the Amazon rainforest. At the moment, using them is not cheap, compared to the prices of our national providers 410 euros for the initial equipment and then 81 euros per month, 99 dollars.
Jeff Bezos instead has his Kuiper project, with the same purpose as Musk’s, but still on paper, albeit briefly. By the end of the decade, Bezos wants 3,236 satellites in orbit, positioned between 590 and 630 kilometers, costing 10 billion. The FCC grants the license as long as it does not interfere with the other constellations already authorized, Starlink in the lead, but there are others, such as OneWeb, Indo-British. So far everything is regular, apart from the very angry astronomers for all these satellites, thousands, in low orbit, which will make it impossible to observe the sky.
Here begins the problem, Musk asks to change the orbits that were granted, for reasons of the opportunity of operation but not one or two: dozens and dozens. Amazon is not there and comes forward with the regulatory authority and issues a precise statement: «The facts are simple. We designed the Kuiper system to avoid interference with Starlink and now SpaceX wants to change the design of its system. These changes not only create a more dangerous environment for collisions in space but also increase radio interference for customers. ‘And he bluntly accuses Musk of wanting, with the proposed changes, to hinder competition between satellite systems, indeed, and it is heavy as an accusation, of trying to “stifle competition in the cradle in their interest, but not in the interest of the public “.
Obviously, according to Elon Musk, who now mainly speaks with short messages on Twitter, it is exactly the opposite and Bezos wants to damage him. The economy now the Federal Communication Commission will take care of it. It is up to us to consider, as it did months ago, how the United States considers it correct to appropriate all possible orbits, in the absence of shared international legislation, which the UN does not even seem to want to address.
But whose space is it? Possible orbits are a limited resource, like frequencies, and occupying them all, or almost all, with thousands of satellites means creating a de facto monopoly that will then be impossible to scratch. The distribution of the Internet in all disadvantaged places in the world, which would seem an almost philanthropic work, certainly represents instead being able to have a monopoly situation on which to convey one’s subsequent products. What would we say if there were only two electricity suppliers in the world, and maybe they even built the chandeliers and light bulbs?