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Jeff Bezos is ‘years behind’ Elon Musk in internet satellite race, SpaceX COO says

SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s second-highest ranking executive said the rocket maker has big advantages over other companies racing to build constellations of internet-providing satellites, including Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com Inc.

SpaceX will in the coming weeks launch its next batch of 60 satellites for its Starlink broadband service, Gwynne Shotwell, the closely held company’s president and chief operating officer said Friday. The company launched its first 60 satellites in May and will eventually conduct such missions every other week. SpaceX recently applied to arrange spectrum for as many as 30,000 Starlink satellites with the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations entity.

“Jeff Bezos wants to start a constellation, but he’s years behind,” Shotwell said at Baron Funds’ annual investment conference in New York. Bezos, who also runs rival rocket company Blue Origin LLC, is pursuing a satellite constellation through Amazon called Project Kuiper.

Shotwell, 55, portrayed the Elon Musk-led SpaceX as hungrier and scrappier than Blue Origin. She referred to the $1 billion Bezos provides to Blue Origin every year by selling Amazon stock as “free money” and suggested that the funding model has its drawbacks.

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“Engineers do better when they’re pushed hardest to do great things in a very short period of time with very few resources. I think that’s when you do great work. Not when you have 20 years, do you get to orbit, do you not. I don’t think there’s the motivation or the drive there.”

SpaceX’s satellites will offer better capacity and be an order of magnitude cheaper than those from the SoftBank Group Corp.-backed OneWeb, she said at an investment conference in New York.

“So if you’re thinking about investing in OneWeb, I would recommend strongly against it,” Shotwell said. “They fooled some people” who will be “pretty disappointed in the near term.”

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For the Starlink constellation to get to a point where there’s constant connectivity between satellites, SpaceX will need to deploy 360 to 400 of them, she said. Once 1,200 satellites are in orbit, the company will be able to provide coverage spanning the globe.

(Baron Funds Chief Executive Ron Baron interviewed Shotwell at the conference. Baron’s asset management firm is invested in both SpaceX and Tesla.)

Trudell writes for Bloomberg.


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