The booming satellite broadband market has gained more fuel as Amazon has revealed it has inked agreements with Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide heavy-lift launch services for Project Kuiper, its initiative to increase global broadband access using a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Project Kuiper aims to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband to a wide range of customers, including individual households, schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, disaster relief operations, mobile operators and other organisations working in places without reliable internet connectivity.
Amazon is designing and developing the entire system in-house, combining a constellation of advanced LEO satellites with what it says will be small, affordable customer terminals and a secure, resilient, ground-based communications network.
Project Kuiper will also take advantage of Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint, as well as Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) networking and infrastructure, to serve a diverse, global customer base.
Project Kuiper plans to launch two prototype missions later in 2022 on ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket. There are now more than 1,000 people at Amazon working on Project Kuiper as it approaches a full, production-ready deployment, finalising its high-performance satellite design, producing a customer terminal, and deploying a secure, reliable communications network that connects satellites to customers and infrastructure on the ground.
Once deployed, the Kuiper system will have the capacity to serve tens of millions of residential, business and government customers in places without reliable broadband.
The new launch contracts total up to 83 launches over five years, providing capacity for Amazon to deploy most of its 3,236-satellite constellation. It is said to be the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history.
“Project Kuiper will provide fast, affordable broadband to tens of millions of customers in unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Dave Limp, senior vice-president for Amazon Devices & Services. “We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system.
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“These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we are proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission.”
Amazon believes that the scale of these contracts will also boost the wider launch services industry, driving innovation and job creation in the US and Europe. Suppliers from 49 US states are helping to develop and manufacture the next-generation, heavy-lift launch vehicles from Blue Origin and ULA, while Arianespace relies on ArianeGroup’s network of suppliers from 13 European countries to produce its Ariane 6 rocket.
Amazon is also working with Beyond Gravity (formerly RUAG Space), a Switzerland-headquartered space technology provider, to build low-cost, scalable satellite dispensers that will help to deploy the Project Kuiper constellation. Beyond Gravity is opening an all-new production facility as a result of the partnership, doubling its production capacity and creating dozens of jobs in Linköping, Sweden.
Amazon said it will continue to partner with companies that share its commitment to closing the global digital divide and creating new opportunities for innovation. “Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice-president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This approach reduces risk associated with launch vehicle stand-downs and supports competitive long-term pricing for Amazon, producing cost savings that we can pass on to our customers.
“These large, heavy-lift rockets also mean we can deploy more of our constellation with fewer launches, helping to simplify our launch and deployment schedule. We are excited to move one step closer to connecting residential, business and government customers around the world.”