The deal with Arianespace, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin will see 83 rockets carrying satellites launched into space
From the enormous scale of Elon Musk’s Starlink deployment to the meteoric recovery of OneWeb from bankruptcy to billion-dollar investment, low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations are one the hottest topics in the international telecoms sector.
Able to provide broad geographic coverage in areas typically hard to reach by conventional methods, as well as providing lower latency and higher bandwidth that their geostationary counterparts, LEO satellites are becoming an increasingly viable alternative to terrestrial communications infrastructure.
Amazon has been working on its own LEO initiative, Project Kuiper, for many years now.
The Kuiper System received an operating licence from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) back in July 2020, aiming to launch 3,236 satellites in total, with more to follow if successful. As per the terms of its licence, Amazon must launch at least half of its constellation into orbit by July 2026, but until now it has been unclear when the first launches would begin to take place.
Now, Amazon has announced new procurement deals with Arianespace, ULA, and Blue Origin for the launch of 83 rockets,
Financial details of the deals were not revealed, but Amazon says they are investing “billions of dollars” across the three deals.
Arianespace, perhaps most recently in the news for aiding in the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, will reportedly provide 18 rockets for the project over three years. According to Arianespace’s CEO, Stéphane Israël, to deal is by far the largest it has ever struck, at least double that of its second largest contract.
ULA will provide 38 launches via its Vulcan Centaur vehicle, while Blue Origin has committed to 12 launches using its New Glenn rocket, with the option of launching 15 more.
“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. “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.”
The full constellation is set to have been launched by mid-2029 at the latest.
Project Kuiper will have some considerable catching up to do to meet the deployments of rivals OneWeb and Starlink, but it is undeniable that this deal – believed to be the largest commercial procurement of space launch vehicles in history – is a good start.
In related news, Elon Musk’s Starlink has faced a setback this week, with French telecoms regulator Arcep revoking its licence.
The regulator had granted the company the right to operate on two frequencies within French territory back in February 2021. Now, however, following appeals by a pair of activist groups, Arcep admits it has made a legal misjudgement.
Starlink’s operation "could impact the market of access to high-bandwidth internet and affect the interests of end users,” according to the regulator, and would therefore require public hearings to take place before the licence can be granted.
It is unclear how long it will take for these hearings to be conducted, but could cause delays to
This is not the only market that Starlink is facing regulatory hurdles. At the start of this year, the Indian government notably told SpaceX to refund the pre-orders the company had recorded throughout 2021, telling the company it could not take money from Indian consumers when it had yet to receive a licence and thus the launch of its services was far from certain.