Space satellite feud escalates between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

In our fortnightly roundup, hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen embraces cryptocurrencies and Takemitsu Takizaki overtakes Uniqlo founder to become the richest person in Japan

Jeff Bezos

The cosmic carping between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk is moving from the moon to low-Earth orbit.

Amazon.com’s satellite subsidiary, Kuiper Systems, filed a scathing comment with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), accusing Mr Musk and his companies of flouting regulations with a general attitude that “rules are for other people”.

Mr Musk’s SpaceX and Mr Bezos’s Kuiper Systems are before the FCC with rival satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit to provide broadband internet access. The dispute mirrors similar sniping between SpaceX and Mr Bezos’s Blue Origin space company over a Nasa contract to build and demonstrate a human lander system for a planned return to the Moon.



The billionaires’ dispute grew more pointed on September 8 in Amazon.com’s letter to the FCC.

“Whether it is launching satellites with unlicensed antennas, launching rockets without approval, building an unapproved launch tower, or reopening a factory in violation of a shelter-in-place order, the conduct of SpaceX and other Musk-led companies makes their view plain: rules are for other people, and those who insist upon or even simply request compliance are deserving of derision and ad hominem attacks,” Kuiper’s lawyer, C Andrew Keisner wrote in response to a SpaceX filing.

The broadside included prior actions by all of Mr Musk’s primary businesses, SpaceX, Starlink and Tesla. The references relate to rocket launches and launch-pad construction in South Texas; Starlink’s antenna designs; and Mr Musk’s decision to reopen Tesla’s Fremont, California, assembly plant in May 2020, defying the county health officials’ order to stay at home.

SpaceX responded that Amazon’s eight-page “diatribe” was “wholly irrelevant” to topics before the commission. The only issue is whether SpaceX has offered adequate information about a “minor” change in the application for its next Starlink satellite configuration, executive David Goldman wrote in a letter on September 9 to the FCC. SpaceX is asking the agency to allow public comments on its system as a way to speed review of its application.

Mr Bezos stepped down as Amazon.com’s chief executive in July, but retains a role as executive chairman focused on new projects and initiatives.

In terms of the Moon contretemps, Blue Origin filed an unsuccessful protest of the Nasa-SpaceX contract, followed by an appeal last month in the Court of Federal Claims. Nasa has suspended its work on the lander project as part of its Artemis programme, which is unlikely to meet the agency’s 2024 deadline to return astronauts to the moon.

SpaceX’s Starlink unit has deployed more than 1,700 satellites to date in low-Earth orbit, a number that could eventually top 30,000 if it receives the necessary regulatory approvals and market demand warrants.

Last December, the FCC awarded SpaceX $886 million in US subsidies to support rural broadband expansion but has recently challenged some of the areas planned for Starlink service, including major airports and parking lots.

The Starlink service has customers in about 12 countries. Amazon.com hasn’t yet launched a satellite but has signed contracts for nine launches with United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

In July, Blue Origin also swiped at Virgin Galactic and its billionaire founder Richard Branson only days before he beat Mr Bezos to space in a suborbital flight. Blue Origin argued that Virgin’s space-tourism vehicle didn’t fly above the “internationally recognised” Karman line space boundary at 100 kilometres (62 miles) and that its cabin windows were smaller than Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Steve Cohen

Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen was, until recently, a bit of a sceptic when it came to cryptocurrencies. Then his son – a “cryptomaniac” – helped to change his mind.

“He really convinced me this was something I needed to do,” Mr Cohen, the founder of Point72 Asset Management and owner of the New York Mets, said last Tuesday at the Skybridge Alternatives Conference.

“Once I decided there were opportunities, and I thought this could be a space like the internet – it could be incredibly transformational – I wasn’t going to miss this,” he added.

Mr Cohen, 65, who has a net worth of $11.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has since thrown himself into the world of cryptocurrencies in both a personal capacity and at his firm.

Last week, he announced he was investing in Radkl, a quantitative trading firm for digital assets. That was after Recur, a non-fungible token company, said Mr Cohen’s family office also invested in its latest funding round.

His interest in the virtual realm extends beyond cryptocurrencies: Mr Cohen also expressed a fascination with the metaverse, or a vision of a virtual world where people interact through avatars.

“There’s some far-out ideas out there, about how people are going to spend their time,” he said. “Your mind can run wild,” he added, about how people will interact in the metaverse, potentially buying virtual real estate and virtual outfits for their avatars.

Mr Cohen, a Mets fan since childhood who bought the team in December for about $2.5bn, also addressed the club’s performance and why he loves owning it.

“It’s taken me into a different realm,” Mr Cohen said. “Owning a hedge fund, you have some notoriety, but it’s nothing like owning a sports team in New York.”



Takemitsu Takizaki

Takemitsu Takizaki, the founder of electronic-sensor maker Keyence, has overtaken Tadashi Yanai, founder of Fast Retailing, the parent company of clothing retailer Uniqlo, to become Japan’s richest person.

Mr Takizaki is worth $38.2bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after his company’s shares almost doubled from the start of last year. Fast Retailing’s Mr Yanai, who’s lost more than a fifth of his wealth in 2021, has a net worth of $35.5bn.

It’s an example of how the wealth landscape is shifting amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as a factory-automation entrepreneur replaces a retail mogul at the top of the country’s rich list. Keyence has also been boosted by its forthcoming inclusion in Japan’s blue-chip equity index, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average.

“This positioning is likely to stay for a while,” Mitsushige Akino, a senior executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management in Tokyo, said of the wealth ranking. “The big factor recently was being added to the Nikkei 225.”

Mr Takizaki founded Keyence in 1974 and steadily built the company as a maker of sensors, measuring instruments, machine-vision systems and other equipment for industrial automation. The Osaka-based firm is known for its high profit margins and paying its staff well.

Keyence’s shares have risen about 96 per cent since the start of 2020, giving the company a market value of about $167bn. By this measure, it’s the second-largest firm in Japan after Toyota.

Mr Takizaki, who owns 21 per cent of Keyence, has added $5.9bn to his fortune this year and is now the ninth-richest person in Asia, according to the Bloomberg index.

Meanwhile, Mr Yanai has lost $9.7bn in wealth in 2021, or about 22 per cent of his fortune, as shares of the maker of Uniqlo clothing fell 18 per cent last week.

Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin was a freshman at Villanova University when he first displayed a knack for pulling off big deals. Using cash borrowed from a neighbour, he bought $200,000 of overstock sports equipment and soon resold it for a $75,000 profit.

He’s been pouncing on opportunities ever since.

Today, Mr Rubin has a net worth of about $8bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Seizing on the disruptive power of internet-based shopping, he has turned sports merchandiser Fanatics into an $18bn powerhouse that sells everything from National Basketball Association jerseys to Kentucky Wildcat-themed portable barbecue grills. He owns about 40 per cent of the company, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Mr Rubin, 49, built Fanatics out of scraps left over from a deal with eBay a decade ago. Now, the Florida-based company – which has tripled in value through multiple funding rounds over the past 12 months – is using its newfound heft to become a disrupter.

Last month, it dethroned Topps as the go-to producer of baseball cards by reaching exclusive agreements with Major League Baseball and its players’ association. It also added agreements with the NBA and National Football League.

“Fanatics came into the jersey and apparel space and absolutely took over,” says Mike Gioseffi, who co-hosts the podcast Sports Cards Nonsense. The speed and breadth of its recent moves into trading cards are “just unheard of”.

Mr Rubin, part-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers through a reported 10 per cent stake in Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, is also executive chairman of Rue Gilt Groupe, an e-commerce company that owns fashion retail websites Rue La La and Gilt.

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