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Amazon gears up to launch 3,236 satellites under $10B Project Kuiper

"The largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history..."

Amazon's ambitious plans to launch 3,236 satellites into orbit to provide space-based broadband services took a significant step forwards this week after it signed a series of multi-billion launch contracts for its Project Kuiper -- an Amazon satellite broadband project aiming to launch its first two satellites in late 2022.

Amazon described its contracts with Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide heavy-lift launch services as the "largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history."

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The contracts provide for 83 launches over a five-year period. Each will bring scores of satellites to space -- where they will orbit at altitudes of 590, 610, and 630 kilometers, providing a mix of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite broadband services via the Ka-band. In December 2020 meanwhile Amazon showcased the compact 12" phased-array antenna with a maximum throughput of 400 Mbps that it aims to provide customers.)

Amazon satellite broadband project kuiper
Tests on the Project Kuiper antenna. Credit: Amazon

In November 2021 Amazon filed an experimental license application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch, deploy, and operate two prototype satellites as the first step in the $10 billion Project Kuiper, which currently has approximately 700 Amazon staff allocated to it.

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Pressed on the launch schedule, Amazon spokesman Tim Kilbride told The Stack: "We’ll have more to share on our constellation deployment schedule after we analyse the results of those prototype missions. However, I can tell you that we’re on track to meet the deadlines set forth in our FCC license."

“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 on April 5. He added: "We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system.

"These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission.”

Project Kuiper's planned space-earth frequency use. Credit: Amazon, via FCC.

“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 simplify our launch and deployment schedule. We’re excited to move one step closer to connecting residential, business, and government customers around the world" he added in a release this week.

Amazon is, of course, set to compete with Elon Musk's Starlink as well as services from companies like Viasat.

Starlink currently has over 2,000 satellites in space after fresh launches in January 2022 -- although not all the 2,042 satellites it has launched are operational or even still in orbit.

Statistics from astrophysicist and spaceflight analyst Jonathan McDowell put 1,879 Starlink satellites in orbit, with 1,495 satellites in operational orbits. Per a recent Space News report, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk, in a Jan. 15 tweet, said there were 1,469 satellites active, with 272 moving to operational orbits.

See also: US agencies tells users to deploy ‘independent encryption’ across their satellite comms. It’s not that easy...