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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk's space age rivalry may not play out as a war of the rockets, but as a war for your internet.

Why it matters: The two billionaire founders of Amazon and SpaceX plan to blanket low-Earth orbit with thousands of satellites that will beam broadband internet to the planet, potentially transforming how the developing world in particular accesses the web.

Where it stands: Both Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company and Musk's SpaceX have been working in parallel with one another for years to get their rockets flying to space, but with their internet ambitions, Musk and Bezos are now on a collision course.

  • SpaceX's Starlink has already received FCC approval for a planned constellation of more than 7,000 satellites.
  • The company launched two Starlink satellites in 2018 as part of a proof-of-concept test.
  • Amazon's Project Kuiper hopes to fly 3,236 satellites to orbit, but has yet to file for FCC approval.
  • "This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet," an Amazon spokesperson tells Axios in an email.

The big picture: Amazon and SpaceX both have good reasons for getting into the satellite internet game.

  • Amazon's e-commerce and web services businesses would benefit from having billions more people using high-speed internet.
  • SpaceX's business could gain a new revenue stream in addition to rocket launches.
  • Blue Origin's launch business is also likely to benefit from Amazon's Project Kuiper, though an Amazon spokesperson said that the company is looking at "all options" for launching their satellites.
  • It will likely take dozens of launches to get these satellite constellations up and running, with many more over the years to keep them functioning.

Meanwhile: Amazon and SpaceX aren't the only contenders in this space. OneWeb envisionsglobal satellite-based broadband and has already launched 6 satellites to orbit. The company recently raised $1.25 billion in funding and plans to have its constellation in place by 2021.

  • Communications companies Viasat and Telesat also have plans to launch satellite constellations.

But, but, but: Satellite operators will need to coordinate their constellations and avoid other satellites and bits of space junk that could put their networks at risk. They'll also need to avoid adding to the space junk problem themselves.

The FCC is developing rules for when spacecraft should be deorbited from these fleets.

  • Depending on what the commission decides, some companies may need to redesign elements of their constellations to fit the new rules.
"[W]e just need to think about how we do this in a sustainable manner."
— Victoria Samson, of the Secure World Foundation

The odds: Satellite broadband constellations aren't a sure bet, business-wise. It's unclear at what price point a satellite-based internet service will be competitive with terrestrial alternatives — like 5G networks. It would have to offset the cost of developing, launching and maintaining a constellation of satellites and providing the service to remote areas.

The bottom line: While Musk and Bezos clearly believe in the promise of these satellite constellations, they still have a long way to go — both technically and financially.

Go deeper

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
3 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.