Amazon has signed a deal with rival SpaceX for three Falcon 9 rocket launches to deploy satellites for the e-commerce giant’s planned high-speed internet service Project Kuiper. The move comes amid delays with Amazon’s own satellite internet rockets.
Amazon’s Satellite Internet Plans
Amazon aims to launch a network of over 3,000 low earth orbit (LEO) internet satellites by 2029 through Project Kuiper. The satellites would provide high-speed, low-latency broadband internet globally, competing with SpaceX’s own Starlink LEO constellation.
Amazon filed plans with the FCC in 2019 for its Kuiper constellation and has secured regulatory approvals. However, the project’s rocket development leg, Amazon’s "Project Jarvis" rockets through its Aerospace subsidiary, has faced setbacks. The reusable New Glenn orbital rocket planned to carry Amazon’s satellites is not expected to launch until late 2024 at the earliest.
Turning to SpaceX Due to Own Rocket Delays
With its rocket plans significantly delayed, Amazon has contracted SpaceX’s proven Falcon 9 rockets for three satellite launches in 2024 and 2025. The terms of the multi-year agreement were not disclosed.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated: "Project Kuiper presents an exciting opportunity to leverage our proven launch technology for a customer who’s thinking differently about space infrastructure and cloud services."
Amazon Senior Vice President Dave Limp said: “Securing launch capacity from Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been foundational to our efforts to build and scale up our satellite broadband network…We still have lots of room for additional capacity to continue ramping up our production and deployment cadence in the coming years."
Behind SpaceX and Amazon’s Complex Relationship
The SpaceX deal highlights the complicated relationship between Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. While the billionaire moguls collaborate in space via partnerships, their companies also compete directly in some areas:
- Both SpaceX and Amazon aim to develop large satellite internet constellations with Starlink and Project Kuiper respectively.
- SpaceX has also challenged Amazon’s space launch business with its low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
- Yet Blue Origin (Bezos) and SpaceX (Musk) partner via engine sales and lunar lander development.
As ULA’s Vulcan rocket also experienced delays, turning to the flight-proven and cheaper Falcon 9 became an obvious option for Amazon despite the complex rivalry.
Key Details on the Satellite Launch Agreement
- 3 Falcon 9 launches contracted: The exact number of Kuiper satellites to launch on each Falcon 9 mission wasn’t disclosed. But Amazon said the three launches will "support its deployment goals" for the project.
- Launches set for 2024 and 2025: The contracted Falcon 9s will provide "heavy-lift" launch capacity for Amazon in 2024 and 2025.
- Adds to Amazon’s launch portfolio: The SpaceX deal adds to Amazon’s previously contracted launches with ULA (18 launches) and Blue Origin (12 launches).
- Leverages reusable rockets: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 features a reusable first stage which returns to Earth after engine cut-off, reducing launch costs.
Project Kuiper Development Timeline
|Amazon submits FCC application for 3,236-satellite constellation
|FCC approval granted
|Amazon contracts ULA for 18 Kuiper launches
|Amazon signs 12 launch deal with Blue Origin
|SpaceX Falcon 9 launch contract for 3 launches
|Planned Falcon 9 Kuiper satellite missions
|Target for full Kuiper constellation deployment
With the SpaceX launch agreement now secured on top of deals with its own Project Jarvis rocket and ULA, Amazon appears on track to deploy the full Kuiper constellation to compete in global satellite broadband with SpaceX Starlink. But relying on a major rival for launches also carries risk. Any setbacks with SpaceX’s launch schedule could impact Amazon’s satellite deployment timeline.
What Happens Next?
Moving forward, Amazon has several key steps to execute its Kuiper satellite ambitions:
- Accelerating production: Amazon must mass produce completed satellites at scale after qualifying its initial prototypes.
- Expanding launch capacity: Even with the secured ULA, Blue Origin and SpaceX deals, Amazon may require more launch partners depending on production rates.
- Deploying satellites: Amazon will utilize multiple rockets to maintain a swift deployment cadence for positioning satellites in LEO.
- Activating network: Once the constellation hits critical mass, Amazon can start providing internet connectivity services globally.
With investments pouring in and launch options expanding, Amazon now faces the challenge of keeping pace with SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company is growing its own Starlink network rapidly with over 3,000 satellites launched already. The race is accelerating for two of the world’s biggest billionaire-led corporate rivals to beam high-speed satellite internet across the planet.
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