Project Kuiper and Amazon’s satellite broadband plan are gone
On top of an Amazon press release sent out this week, has a unique image. It’s a rocket printed with an American flag and, more than that, the smiling Amazon logo, flying in the sky. The company officially took its business into space, and Jeff Bezos didn’t even give it a ride.
Amazon recently announced that, by the end of next year, a startup called ABL Space Systems will deliver two prototype satellites for Project Kuiper, the company’s effort to build a low-Earth orbit, or LEO, satellite constellation that can beam internet connectivity to Earth. Amazon says it will eventually deploy 3,236 satellites “that will provide fast, cheap broadband to unserved and under-served communities around the world.” It doesn’t hurt to be a space-based internet service provider will also help grow the company’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Amazon says satellites work with Verizon to deliver LTE and 5G service in hard -to -reach areas.
It’s hard to argue the idea of getting a lot of people online. In some parts of the world, broadband access for human rights. But if you’re worried about Amazon’s growing dominance over everyone, it can be scary that one of the world’s most powerful companies is launching satellites in space and will soon manage internet traffic across the planet. Also, thanks to AWS, the new satellite-based internet business should succeed. According to Babak Beheshti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology, told me last year, “Amazon is, in fact, effectively becoming its own largest customer to improve the pump for revenue stream.”
But given the history of telecommunications monopolies on Earth, it may not be a bad thing that so many companies have joined the race for internet space.
“Increased market competition over the next few years is likely to drive innovation that will lead to improved service quality and, at best, cheaper prices,” said Mark Buell, North American regional vice president for the Internet Society, an international advocacy organization for the open development and use of the internet.
Amazon is not alone in the mission of creating a fast and robust internet service using satellite constellations. Starlink, a SpaceX project, there are already more than 1,700 satellites in sub-Earth orbit, and the company says so there are about 90,000 people who are now trying out the service, each paying $ 99 a month (plus a $ 499 fee for the satellite dish) for the privilege. OneWeb, a British company that came out of bankruptcy a year ago, there are more than 350 satellites in orbit today, about half of its total planned for its constellation.
The idea behind all of these services is pretty simple, as far as space objects are concerned. A ground station with a fiber connection beams data up to the satellite constellation and the satellites beam data back to customers. Despite literally going into space and back, connections can also be fast. Project Kuiper says its prototype delivers speeds of up to 400Mbps, faster than the average broadband speed in the United States. And because the connection is from the sky, almost anywhere on the planet can get internet service without having to pull wires in the mountains, under the sea, through the rainforest, or anywhere in a remote location. Amazon itself is probably in a unique position to make it even better.
“Providing telecommunications services is more than just launching satellites in space,” Buell said. “The infrastructure needs to be put on the ground. Amazon has made a lot of investment in fiber optic cables to connect its data centers – and, importantly, Amazon has surpassed the logistics, which is needed to manage more than 3,200 satellites.
Getting more people online, in and of itself, is a perfectly valid goal for Amazon, but again, the company’s ambitions may go beyond that. Last year, AWS completed the construction of six ground stations as part of a new initiative to offer its customers easier access to control satellite communications and satellite data processing. The business is called AWS Ground Station, naturally, and soon, it looks like Amazon will have its own satellites in orbit, which could potentially announce any services AWS decides to offer in the future.
That Amazon will launch Project Kuiper not only to sell the internet service to customers but also to increase AWS offerings is not a scandal, though. The space commerce industry is in its infancy, and there has been a lot of progress in thinking about the basic logistics of launching rockets and satellites into orbit and experimenting with what is possible. That’s what Jeff Bezos has been doing since he left office earlier this year as CEO of the company he founded. His space company Blue Origin recently announces plans to build “mixed-use business park” in orbit to lease parts of a space station for commercial use. The resident satellite will be online by the time the International Space Station retires, likely by the end of this decade.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk says he wants the revenue from Starlink to pay for his Starship project and missions to colonize other planets. The billionaire said in 2019 that the space-based broadband business is “a key stepping stone toward building a self-sustaining city on Mars and a moon base.” Starship has been chosen mentally the vehicle for the Artemis missions, which plans to land humans on the moon as soon as 2024.
But neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin will bring new Amazon satellites into space. It looks like California-based startup ABL Space Systems, which specializes in carrying small payloads to orbit over cheaper rockets, is offering Amazon a bargain. ABL Space Systems, that is has not yet launched a rocket, says it will take nearly 1.5 tons of payload into lower Earth orbit with its RS1 rocket, the same one that will carry Amazon Kuiper satellites, at $ 12 million per launch. A launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 could cost $ 62 million. And Blue Origin seems more focused to launch celebrities into space.
What makes Project Kuiper and its competitors unique has nothing to do with who flies the rockets or goes to Mars, or even how Amazon launches a new space business. For many, the success of these projects can mean the difference between accessing the internet and not having it. Currently, there are at least 21 million Americans no access of quality broadband, according to the FCC, which means countless children who do not have access to online educational tools and patients who do not have access to telemedicine-among many other things. So if Amazon wants to get a lot of people online, well, there’s a lot of improvement for a lot of people. And for Amazon, a lot of potential new customers.