Amazon is facing delays in the deployment of its Internet satellites to the point of prompting it to form an unexpected partnership with its rival SpaceX. Amazon has just paid for three launches in order to place its Kuiper project satellites in low Earth orbit. These launches, which are expected to begin in mid-2025, will be carried out using SpaceX’s trusty Falcon 9 rocket.
Two competing constellations
Starlink, a space company project owned by SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, aims to revolutionize Internet access around the world through a constellation of satellites in low orbit around the Earth. Launched in 2018, Starlink aims to provide high-speed, reliable and accessible internet connectivity, particularly in remote and underserved areas. The Starlink constellation now has more than 5,000 operational satellites, with ambitious plans for expansion.
Amazon Kuiper, an Amazon initiative, represents another ambitious company seeking to expand Internet access globally. Announced in 2019, the Kuiper project envisages the deployment of just over 3,000 satellites. Amazon has already launched two prototype satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, on a ULA Atlas V rocket on October 6, 2023. These satellites are successfully operating in orbit, paving the way for large-scale deployment starting in the first half of the year. 2024.
Although specific details on commercial availability and costs are not yet fully defined, Amazon’s Project Kuiper thus presents itself as a competitor to the Starlink program.
SpaceX to the rescue
A priori, there was therefore no question of collaborating, especially since the bosses of Amazon and SpaceX are not really known for getting along.
Unfortunately for Amazon, the Blue Glenn rocket developed by Blue Origin, another Jeff Bezos company, is not yet ready to fly. Its maiden flight is planned for next year. To facilitate the deployment of its satellites, Amazon has also booked other launches with various providers, including Arianespace and United Launch Alliance. However, here again, the rockets concerned have not yet been tested. And even if they were, their specifications are already well filled.
At the same time, Amazon is under pressure from a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s 2020 authorization order effectively requires the company to launch half of its 3,236 Project Kuiper satellites by 2026 and the remainder by 2029 to maintain its license.
In other words, Amazon, lacking heavy launchers and pressed for time, had to find a solution to launch some of its satellites into orbit. Against all expectations, the company recently turned to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the only rocket on the market capable of achieving these objectives. Three launches are already planned for 2025.