The rapid expansion of SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service is allowing CEO Elon Musk to set the rules in the sector, according to the head of the European Space Agency.
“You have one person who owns half of the active satellites in the world. This is pretty amazing. In fact, he sets the rules, ”ESA CEO Josef Aschbacher told the Financial Times on Sunday. The rest of the world, including Europe, did not react quickly enough, he said.
SpaceX's Starlink, which transmits the Internet from satellites in orbit to user terminals on Earth, currently has over 1,750 operational satellites in orbit and serves about 140,000 users in 20 countries, according to a presentation filed by the company to the FCC from November 10.
There are currently over 4,000 active satellites in orbit according to CelesTrak data cited in The Independent.
Ashbakher told the FT that a lack of government coordination and European support for Starlink expansion could prevent European companies from competing in the commercial space industry and launching satellites into low Earth orbit where Starlink dominates.
According to the FT, Germany has asked the International Telecommunication Union to allow Starlink Mask to launch about 40,000 satellites. The Internet Satellite Service has also received the green light from US regulators to launch more than 30,000 satellites, the report said.
“Space will be much more limited [in terms of] frequencies and orbital spacing,” Ashbakher told FT. He said governments in Europe should support European ISPs by giving them an equal opportunity in the marketplace, the newspaper said.
He told the FT that the rest of the world is "just not responding fast enough," adding that other competitors and regulators are struggling to catch up with Starlink due to its rapid expansion.
Ashbakher has called on European governments to stop letting Musk dominate the space industry, FT reports.
Starlink plans to deploy 200,000 user terminals in India by December 2022, as well as launch them in the Philippines, according to Bloomberg.