Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk’s Space Race Goes Beyond Rocket Launches

Space travel may be at the forefront of the public’s mind, but the space race extends much further, with satellite constellations becoming a competitive area as companies compete to control broadband and cellular satellite access. While many companies are invested in satellites, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk still stand out. Both Amazon and SpaceX have plans to launch satellites providing global broadband access. Through its Project Kuiper, Amazon plans to launch a constellation of 3,236 low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites over the next couple of years. Amazon has Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval but has not yet launched a single satellite. Meanwhile, SpaceX has launched around 1,800 Starlink satellites since 2018 and already provides 10,000 customers with low-latency broadband access. SpaceX also partnered with Google Cloud, enabling Google to use the satellite network’s internet for cloud customers. 

Recently Amazon hired a team of internet experts from Facebook to boost its effort to launch thousands of satellites and offer global broadband service. The employees previously worked on Facebook’s in-house satellite project, Athena, though the project was paused in July 2021 coinciding with  the employee transfer to Amazon. To keep up with SpaceX, Amazon will need more than just new employees. Looking at the patent data, they trail behind SpaceX. Currently, SpaceX holds eleven (11) patents and twenty-seven (27) patent applications most of which are satellite related. Amazon seems to hold only three (3) patents related to satellites, while Blue Origin’s patent portfolio consists mostly of launch vehicles and flight path systems. 

Right now it is difficult to tell if Amazon acquired more than just Facebook’s employees. Facebook ran its satellite project through a subsidiary called PointView, which was partnered with Maxar Technologies through Maxar’s subsidiary SSL. While Maxar holds satellite-related patent assets, Pointview has none. Facebook still holds three patents related to satellites but none of them have been reassigned. Amazon has not announced a new partnership with Maxar, and it does not seem like they have acquired any recent satellite patent assets. 

Even with new employees, Amazon will need to play catch up if it wants to stay competitive in this expanding area. While there are about 19,000 satellites currently orbiting the earth, over 46,000 satellites are expected to launch over the next decade. Companies looking to dominate the space should focus on building their patent portfolios, either through innovation or acquisitions. 

Follow the  Elon Musk “Inc” Patent Forecast® to keep up with SpaceX’s satellite technology.