Amazon Signs Rocket Deal With Blue Origin, Arianespace, ULA For Project Kuiper Internet Satellites

Artist’s renderings of the companies’ rockets, from left to right: New Glenn, Vulcan Centaur, and Ariane 6.

Blue Origin / United Launch Alliance / Arianespace

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Amazon announced Tuesday what it says is the largest rocket deal in commercial space industry history, signing with three companies for up to 83 launches of its Project Kuiper Internet satellites.

The tech giant signed contracts for 38 launches with the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of boeing Y Lockheed Martin; 18 launches with the European company Arianespace; and 12 launches with Blue Origin, with an option for up to 15 additional launches with the private company owned by the founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos.

The Kuiper Project is Amazon’s plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit, to provide high-speed Internet anywhere in the world. In 2020, the FCC cleared Amazon’s system, which the company has said it will “invest more than $10 billion” to build.

Amazon is set to begin testing a pair of Kuiper satellite prototypes with a launch scheduled for later this year. launch on ABL Space’s RS1 rocket, before moving on to launch operational satellites. Although Amazon has not said when the Kuiper launch campaign will begin, FCC rules require the company to deploy half of its planned satellites within six years, which means about 1,600 will be in orbit by July 2026.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone in all aspects of our satellite system. These launch deals reflect our incredible commitment and confidence in Project Kuiper,” Dave Limp, Senior Vice President of Devices from Amazon. and services, he said in a statement.

Terms of the contracts announced Tuesday were not disclosed.

ULA will use its Vulcan rockets for all 38 Kuiper launches, in addition to the nine Atlas V rocket launches for Kuiper that Amazon bought last year. Each Vulcan rocket will launch 45 Kuiper satellites into orbit, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said. ULA’s Vulcan rocket has yet to launch, but its debut mission is scheduled for later this year. While ULA has not disclosed the base price of a Vulcan launch, the US government has bought launches on the rocket for around $112 million each.

Arianespace will fly its 18 Kuiper missions on its upcoming Ariane 6 rockets, which will also debut later this year. According to Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel, Ariane 6 will be able to carry between 35 and 40 Kuiper satellites on each mission. The European rocket maker has also not specified the pricing structure for Ariane 6, but has previously said it was targeting a base price of $77 million per launch.

Blue Origin will use its New Glenn rockets to fly the 12 Kuiper missions it will host. According to CEO Bob Smith, New Glenn will deliver 61 Kuiper satellites per mission. While Blue Origin does not currently have an official target date for New Glenn’s first release, CNBC has previously reported that the rocket is expected to debut in 2024 or later.. The company has not publicly disclosed the price of New Glenn launches, but an estimate from Arianespace two years ago put the Blue Origin rocket at $68 million per launch. While both companies were founded by Bezos, Blue Origin is separate from Amazon.

In total, Amazon’s Kuiper launch contracts are easily worth billions of dollars, though it’s unclear what impact competitive bidding and potential bulk order discounts would have on the overall price. The four companies declined to comment on the cost.

Taking on SpaceX

Notably absent from Amazon’s launch payroll is the most active US rocket company: by Elon Musk Space X. But, even with Musk’s promise to launch competitors, Amazon and SpaceX have long clashed in front of federal regulators over their respective satellite internet networks.Kuiper and Starlink.

SpaceX has established a sizable lead over Amazon in the race to provide internet from space, launched around 2,000 Starlink satellites so far, serving around 250,000 total subscribers.

But Amazon is betting on its global footprint to close that gap. The company says Kuiper’s network “will leverage Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint, as well as Amazon Web Services (AWS) network and infrastructure.”

Kuiper competes not only with Starlink for consumer and business subscribers, but also with Britain-backed OneWeb, which nearly two-thirds have finished launching their first generation of satellites. But, in a briefing at the 37th Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Amazon’s Limp said he believes there is room for “multiple winners” in the satellite Internet race, because “there is so much unmet need.”

Amazon also has a head start in addressing a key hurdle to affordable satellite internet: the antennas customers need to connect. Amazon has touted its “expertise in producing low-cost devices and services like the Echo and Kindle” to lower the price of the hardware customers require for the service. Similarly, Limp noted that Amazon plans to sell its “one-click purchase” satellite internet to customers like it does other devices.

Limp said Kuiper’s team “had an epiphany” designing the satellite dish to be shipped to customers.

“We were able to get the cost of that under $500,” Limp said.

For comparison, SpaceX said last year that the cost of their Starlink user terminals is around $1,300 each, down from its original design of around $3,000. SpaceX charges customers $599 up front for Starlink hardware, which means the company absorbs about half the cost of acquiring subscribers.

Amazon has yet to give much information about the Kuiper satellites, such as mass or power.

“Our satellites are larger than potentially other [low Earth orbit] constellations that you might know about, so we need new, bigger launch vehicles to make it affordable,” Limp said.

But the company’s design is likely close to completion, if not already, as Amazon announced it is working with Swiss company Beyond Gravity to build satellite dispensers to deploy the Kuiper spacecraft.

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