Amazon.com Inc. today announced that it has inked agreements with rocket makers Blue Origin LLC, ULA LLC and Arianespace SA to launch thousands of internet satellites into space.
The agreements cover 83 rocket launches. Blue Origin, ULA and Arianespace will send internet satellites from Amazon’s Project Kuiper subsidiary to low Earth orbit. Project Kuiper’s goal is to deploy thousands of internet satellites that will provide wireless connectivity to individuals and organizations around the world.
Blue Origin, the aerospace company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will carry out up to 27 of the planned 83 rocket launches. Blue Origin will use a rocket called New Glenn that is currently under development.
New Glenn will be capable of carrying up to 45 tons’ worth of equipment into space. The rocket’s first stage, which is the component that it uses to take off and cover the first part of its journey to orbit, is designed to be reusable. After completing its task, New Glenn’s first stage will return to Earth with the help of wing-like structures and land on an autonomous ship about 620 miles from the launchpad.
Another 38 satellite launches will be carried out by ULA, or United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. ULA plans to deploy Amazon’s satellites using its Vulcan Centaur rocket. Vulcan Centaur will be capable of carrying a more than 10-ton payload to space.
The third major aerospace company with which Amazon has partnered to deploy its Project Kuiper internet satellites is France-based Arianespace. The company will carry out 18 launches for Amazon. Arianespace is set to ferry the online retail and technology giant’s satellites to space using its Ariane 6 rocket, which can carry up to 21 tons of equipment onboard.
Amazon is also working with startup ABL Space Systems Co. to support Project Kuiper. ABL Space Systems is set to carry out two “prototype missions” for Amazon later this year using its RS1 rocket, a low-cost launch vehicle, which can carry about 1.3 tons of equipment.
“Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” said Rajeev Badyal, the vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “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 simplify our launch and deployment schedule,” Badyal added.
After a satellite reaches orbit onboard a rocket, it has to be deployed to its perch above Earth, which requires specialized equipment. Amazon is teaming up with Switzerland-based aerospace company Beyond Gravity to address this requirement. Beyond Gravity will create “low-cost, scalable satellite dispensers that will help deploy the Project Kuiper constellation,” Amazon stated.
Amazon and its partners will deploy additional aerospace infrastructure to support the company’s satellite plans. Beyond Orbit plans to set up a new production facility as part of the partnership. ULA, meanwhile, will expand its infrastructure in several ways, including by upgrading its launch site at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to create two parallel “launch lanes.”
Amazon says that the launch agreements with Blue Origin, ULA and Arianespace collectively represent the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in the space industry’s history. As part of the initiative, Amazon plans to launch most of the 3,256 satellites that will comprise its planned orbital internet network. The satellites are set to be launched over five years.
Through Project Kuiper, Amazon is set to compete with a number of other companies that are also working to deliver space-based internet services. SpaceX Corp. has deployed more than 2,000 Starlink internet satellites in orbit to provide wireless connectivity for customers. U.K.-based OneWeb, officially Network Access Associates Ltd., is building its own constellation of internet satellites.
Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb are all deploying their networks in low Earth orbit, which is much closer to the ground than the altitude where internet satellites usually operate. Deploying satellites closer to the ground reduces launch costs because rockets have to cover a shorter distance. The data being transmitted by the satellites to Earth has to travel a shorter distance as well, which reduces latency for users.
Amazon has big plans for Project Kuiper. The company says that, once its satellite constellation is fully deployed, Project Kuiper will have the capacity to provide internet for tens of millions of residential, business and government customers.