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Amazon signs deals to send its internet satellites into space

Amazon has signed contracts to launch up to 83 rockets that will launch its internet satellites into low-Earth orbit in what is believed to be the largest such procurement in space industry history.

Agreements with Arianespace, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will be enough to launch the bulk of its original constellation of 3,236 satellites, Amazon said.

They will form the backbone of Project Kuiper, Amazon’s high-speed broadband network aimed at consumers, businesses, government agencies and others. It aims to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink, which has launched more than 2,000 satellites and offers download speeds of up to 200 megabits per second.

Amazon didn’t provide specific financial details of the agreements or a timeline for launch, but said it is “investing billions of dollars across the three deals.” An Amazon executive told the Financial Times that the company will invest “no less than $10 billion” in the overall constellation.

Project Kuiper has a deadline set by the US Communications Administration to have at least half of its satellites in low-Earth orbit by July 2026. Two prototype missions are scheduled to launch later this year with another vendor, ABL Space Systems.

“This is by far the most important order ever awarded to launchers,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, the European launcher co-owned by Airbus and Safran that is supplying Project Kuiper with 18 launchers over a three-year period .

“It shows Amazon’s determination to continue the Kuiper project at full speed. To commit to 83 launchers is absolutely amazing.”

Israel declined to disclose the value of the contract but said it was certainly the largest commercial deal its company had inked as it represented more than double the capacity of its previous largest commercial contract.

Arianespace launched 15 successful missions with its Ariane 5 rocket last year, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. The deal with Amazon is a big win for the French company’s latest rocket, the Ariane 6, which will make its maiden flight later this year.

Israel said that because of the Amazon deal, Arianespace will consider increasing the cadence of Ariane 6 launches. “Signing 18 launches is like signing 36 contracts in a single day,” he said.

The business model for Ariane 6 was based on 11 launches per year, he said. From 2025 there could now be 15 per year to tap into the booming demand for launch services, he added: “We are seeing that there is now a rush into space and a huge demand for very ambitious projects.”

The deal with ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is the largest signed with Amazon. It committed to 38 launches on Vulcan Centaur, its latest heavy-lift launch vehicle. The agreement also includes investments in on-site infrastructure at Cape Canaveral. Amazon had previously commissioned nine launches of ULA’s Atlas rocket.

Blue Origin, the space company founded and financially backed by Jeff Bezos, has secured 12 Project Kuiper launches on its New Glenn rocket, with options for up to 15 more. New Glenn, originally scheduled for launch in 2020, has been repeatedly delayed, and its first launch will not occur until 2023 at the earliest.

“We are making great progress on New Glenn and we will fly when we are ready,” said a spokeswoman.

Amazon declined to comment on whether the close relationship between Amazon and its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos influenced its decision to work with Blue Origin, despite the delayed schedule.

“Securing launch capacity from multiple vendors has been an important part of our strategy from day one,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology at Project Kuiper. “This approach reduces the risk associated with launcher downtime and supports competitive long-term pricing for Amazon, resulting in cost savings that we can pass on to our customers.”

“These large, heavy-lift missiles also mean we can deploy more of our constellation with fewer launches, which helps simplify our launch and deployment schedule,” he added.

Amazon said it now has more than 1,000 employees working on Project Kuiper, mostly in engineering and development. The program, which will focus on providing Internet to underserved communities, requires the development of a Low-cost antenna to receive a signal.

https://www.ft.com/content/86b6844c-c978-4d2b-aeb1-95616bbd0ed4 Amazon signs deals to send its internet satellites into space

Adam Bradshaw

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