Last week, Amazon revealed in a set of filings to the International Telecommunications Union that it has planned an ambitious space project that will provide high-speed internet through a constellation of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit. A few days later, reports emerged that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had hired a former executive at Elon Musk’s private rocket company, SpaceX, to lead the satellite project, code-named Project Kuiper.
Musk wasn’t too thrilled about Bezos’ talent poaching nor his new satellite project. In a tweet on Tuesday night in response to an MIT Technology Review story about Project Kuiper, Musk tagged Bezos and wrote “copy” followed by a cat emoji.
That’s because SpaceX already has had a very similar and much larger project called “Starlink” in the works for over a year. In fact, Bezos’ new star hire, Rajeev Badyal, was the lead engineer of Starlink while at SpaceX. He was reportedly fired by Musk in June of last year because of Starlink’s slow progress.
Initiated in late 2017, Starlink has launched only two test satellites to date. According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) documents, the network will need a constellation of at least 800 satellites to function. And SpaceX has planned a total of 11,943 satellites.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper is basically the same idea but on a much smaller scale, with only 3,236 satellites planned.
SpaceX and Amazon aren’t the only companies racing in the satellite-based internet business. Traditional telecom companies, such as Viasat and Hughes Network Systems, already offer internet access via satellites in high geosynchronous orbit. But satellites in lower orbit are expected to provide more stable and cheaper access.
Some companies are venturing into the middle ground between the existing high orbit satellites and the low orbit alternatives proposed by SpaceX and Amazon. Holland-based SES Networks, for example, is building a constellation of satellites at the mid-orbit altitude. The company launched four of them last week.
This was also not the first time Musk had squared up to Bezos on Twitter. Three years ago, the pair got into a face-off about who was the first space entrepreneur to successfully launch a reusable rocket.
In November 2015, Bezos tweeted “the rarest of beasts—a used rocket” after his space travel company, Blue Origin, successfully launched and then landed a New Shepard rocket.
Musk quickly responded, “Not quite ‘rarest.’ SpaceX Grasshopper rocket did six suborbital flights three years ago and is still around.”