Amazon said today that it has reached agreements with three commercial space companies to launch Amazon Project Kuiper low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites designed to deliver broadband to unserved or underserved areas.
According to Amazon, the agreements with Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance will provide enough capacity to launch the majority of the 3,236 satellites planned for the Project Kuiper constellation.
Amazon did not provide a timeline for the launches, although the company said the agreements cover a five-year period. In November, the company said it would launch two satellites by the fourth quarter of 2022 on an ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket.
All Hands on Deck
In a blog post, Amazon outlined how its diverse resources will support the project. For example, the company expects its “global logistics and operations footprint” to provide customer service. In addition, Amazon Web Services (AWS) will provide networking and infrastructure to support the offering. And the company will leverage its experience in producing low-cost devices such as Echo and Kindle to develop low-cost customer terminals.
“Affordability is job one for us,” says Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, in an eight-minute YouTube video about the project. According to Badyal, Amazon wants to make its service “two orders of magnitude cheaper” although he didn’t specify what that was in comparison with.
A Competitive Market
Project Kuiper is one of several non-geostationary satellite broadband projects under development. The company is several years behind the SpaceX Starlink project, which already has launched some satellites and has been offering services in some areas. SpaceX is slated to receive close to a billion dollars from the FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program, although its funding has not yet been released.
A range of stakeholders has expressed concerns about SpaceX’s ability to achieve its goals. Among the concerns: the cost of the customer terminals and the company’s ability to launch enough rockets to support its plans. The company has relied primarily on its own space launch business, but the Amazon news suggests SpaceX could address the launch capacity issue by enlisting other launch companies – assuming the other companies’ capacity isn’t tied up meeting launch commitments for Amazon.
The news about Amazon customer terminal costs is also a mixed bag of news for SpaceX. On the one hand, it suggests that Amazon could have a competitive advantage. On the other hand, if Amazon can minimize terminal costs, perhaps SpaceX should be able to do so, too.
It’s important to keep in mind that both SpaceX and Amazon are targeting not just the U.S., but areas worldwide for their LEO services.
According to the eight-minute Amazon Project Kuiper video, half of the world population lacks “connectivity or access to good connectivity.”
More than 1,000 people are working on Project Kuiper, according to Amazon, and the company expects to support thousands of suppliers and highly skilled jobs in 49 U.S. states and 13 European countries.