SpaceX Accuses Viasat of Trying to Access Starlink Tech Through the FCC

In an Thursday filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), SpaceX defended its proposal for the deployment of second-generation Starlink satellites and accused competitor Viasat of trying to use the regulatory agency to gain access to confidential data on Starlink satellite design — reports PCMag.

Starlink is a high-speed satellite broadband service from SpaceX designed to provide affordable internet at viable speeds anywhere and everywhere across the globe. SpaceX hopes that Starlink will one day serve high-speed internet to millions of users across the globe.

Viasat and other rival satellite service providers have called for the FCC to impose certain conditions on Starlink‘s proposal, citing concerns that SpaceX’s second-gen satellites for the network will cause radio interference and collisions in space.

However, SpaceX believes Viasat’s legal tactics are a thinly veiled attempt at getting its hands on proprietary Starlink data.

“Viasat not only demands such onerous conditions on US licensees, but also seeks to force disclosure of SpaceX’s proprietary data — presumably to inform its designs to build a competing satellite business,” the company said on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Viasat argued before the FCC that SpaceX’s application for the approval of its second-gen satellite plan failed to provide “key antenna and transmission information about its proposed system expansion,” including the number of beams on each satellite, and the channels per beam.

“This prevents the Commission and other interested parties from understanding the ‘baseline’ satellite designs and system configurations being proposed by SpaceX,” said Viasat.

“This is particularly critical in the case of SpaceX as it has unilaterally changed its satellite design multiple times, in ways potentially inconsistent with the requirement that all operating satellites and replacements remain ‘technically identical’ to those initially authorized by the Commission.”

In response, SpaceX said that Viasat is merely trying to use FCC procedures to gain a “commercial advantage through delay of a competitor or forced disclosure of proprietary technical information.”

“Viasat’s multiple demands across several years despite SpaceX’s unprecedented transparency demonstrate clearly that Viasat will never be satisfied with any amount of information SpaceX could provide,” the company added.

In an email to PCMag, Viasat said it is only asking that SpaceX be required “to provide basic information under longstanding FCC policies and to substantiate SpaceX’s unsupported assertions in its application.”

“That data is needed to ensure that SpaceX actually can share spectrum and operate in a safe manner. It speaks volumes that SpaceX refuses to back its broad assertions with facts and other data,” Viasat added.

The 86-page document filed by SpaceX on Thursday offers responses to several criticisms leveled and arguments made against the company’s second-gen Starlink network proposal.

The document accuses competitors like Viasat and OneWeb of using FCC procedures to delay SpaceX’s rollout of second-gen satellites rather than competing through technology. SpaceX is currently asking the FCC to approve plans for 30,000 gen-2 Starlink satellites.

“In summary, nothing in the petitions and comments provides any basis for the Commission to delay, deny, or condition approval of the Gen2 application. Meanwhile, otherwise underserved and unserved Americans have already been waiting too long for high-quality connections,” the company said in its filing.

As of last month, there are 1,469 active satellites stationed in low Earth orbit (LEO) as part of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Last month, SpaceX announced that it plans to deploy second-gen Starlink satellites exclusively with its Starship rocket, instead of the much more experienced Falcon 9.

A lawyer for the company said at the time that SpaceX has asked the FCC to fast-track approval and it hopes to start launching second-gen Starlink satellites as early as March 2022.