Business tycoon Elon Musk is facing criticism from competitor Stephane Israel over his company SpaceX’ plan to launch thousands of satellites in the lower orbit of the planet. Israel, who heads the satellite launch company Arianespace has warned that such actions can lead to “de-facto monopolization” of space.
The disagreement is over Musk’s Starlink constellation project which plans to provide broadband connectivity to isolated places on Earth using satellites in space. Recently, the project received permission from the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), the communications regulatory body of the US, to place thousands of satellites lower than previously proposed.
According to FCC, reducing the altitude of satellites will be beneficial as it “will improve the experience for users of the SpaceX service, including in often-underserved polar regions”. It will also help to reduce space debris as the satellites will be easy to remove. However, the move has angered many competitors in the space industry including Amazon who say that a lower altitude will lead to more collisions and radio interference.
Addressing a UN conference on sustainable space development goals, Stephane Israel said, “We want space to remain accessible for human activities….. but we refuse a Wild West space. It really is our responsibility to ensure that low orbit (less than 625 miles) above the Earth is sustainable long-term.”
According to Israel, about 35 per cent of all satellites in operation currently belong to Elon Musk alone. “And if you include satellites of more than 50 kilograms, that’s more than 50 per cent,” he added. He also talked of the risk of creation of “de-facto monopolization” in space as Musk’s company is among the first ones to create a large network of satellites.
It is worth noting that the global space launch industry was valued at $13 billion in 2019 and is expected to rise further to $26 billion by 2027. The launches of SpaceX have put pressure on Arianespace to improve its own competitiveness.