Satellite Internet: Amazon Records 83 Rocket Launches for Project Kuiper

Amazon has ordered a total of 83 heavy-duty rocket launches from three space companies to set up its “Project Kuiper” satellite internet, including 18 with Europe’s Ariane 6. Other satellites will be carried into space with rockets from Blue Origin and the United Launch Alliance, Amazon said on Tuesday.

For Arianespace it is the largest contract in history, the group speaks of a great vote of confidence in the rocket that has never taken off. Amazon has secured another 12 launches, plus options for 15 more, at Blue Origin, the space company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Once again, New Glenn is about a rocket that has never been launched. United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur, of which 38 have now been ordered for Project Kuiper, has yet to make its maiden flight. Together, they are expected to launch 3,239 satellites for Amazon’s mega-satellite constellation in five years.

Three years after Project Kuiper was first announced, Amazon is now taking the giant order seriously. Like SpaceX with Starlink, Amazon wants to “improve worldwide access to global broadband Internet.” In addition to homes, Amazon is targeting “schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, disaster relief organizations, cell phone carriers, and other organizations located in places without a reliable internet connection.” The network is said to be secure and resilient, also thanks to Amazon’s global network infrastructure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers. When developing the receivers, experience with Echo and Kindle devices can be used.

How big the demand for Project Kuiper will be cannot be predicted at this time. SpaceX is by far the most advanced in building its network, with more than 2,000 active satellites providing internet connectivity in dozens of countries. Not so far away is the British company OneWeb which, with less than 700 satellites, is not aimed at individuals but at companies and administrations. OneWeb recently lost the Russian rockets for launching the outstanding satellites, so SpaceX stepped in.

Amazon explains that ordering releases from multiple vendors was an important part of the strategy from the start. This reduces risk. The ad doesn’t say how much the group is paying for the rockets, or when it should start. The group had already secured missiles for initial tests.

The request for launch capacity for several thousand satellites also confirms fears that the orbit will become increasingly crowded. Shortly after the start of construction of Starlink, it became clear that relatively low-orbiting satellites could render astronomical images useless because they show up as disturbing fringes. Model calculations have shown that after dark and before dawn, these satellites become increasingly annoying, even to stargazers. The largely unobstructed view of stars could soon be a thing of the past, in part because other mega-constellations have been announced.


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