The Space-Based Internet Battle Is Heating Up
Matthew Greenwood posted on August 20, 2020 |
FCC approves Amazon’s Kuiper Project, which would launch 3,236 satellites.

There’s going to be a new satellite constellation in the sky: Amazon’s ambitious Kuiper project. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved the company`s plan—and Amazon responded swiftly by committing $10 billion to the project.

Kuiper will be a global constellation of 3,236 satellites orbiting the planet in three different Low Earth Orbits. 784 would take orbit 367 miles high, another 1,296 would orbit higher at 379 miles, and the remaining 1,156 satellites would occupy space 391 miles above ground. Once the satellites have reached the end of their useful life, they will be deorbited in a maximum of 355 days—far less than the 25-year standard set by NASA.

Amazon anticipates that once it has half of its units in space it will be able to start providing high-speed, low-latency broadband Internet for customers all over the world. Kuiper will also provide backhaul service to other service carriers, allowing them to piggyback on the constellation to offer high-speed LTE and 5G wireless connections to customers in areas where they don’t have ground infrastructure.

“We have heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their job or complete schoolwork because they don’t have reliable Internet at home,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s Senior Vice President. “There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that.”

Amazon’s team will develop, build and test the Kuiper satellites at a state-of-the-art facility in Redmond, Washington. The satellite factory will consist of two buildings totalling 219,000 square feet of space—bigger than four football fields. The facility will house offices, design space, labs and prototype development technologies.

And don’t forget that Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also has his own rocket company in Blue Origin. While Amazon isn’t committing to launching with Blue Origin, the family connection surely makes it easier to get the satellites into space.

SpaceX and Amazon plan to launch 42,000 satellites combined.

Kuiper will face off against companies like SpaceX and OneWeb, who already have head starts—SpaceX’s Starlink has over 500 satellites already in the sky, while OneWeb has launched 74 to higher orbits. In contrast, Amazon has yet to build even a single satellite. However, industry watchers expect the Amazon project to get up to speed quickly—the FCC mandates (PDF) that Amazon launch half of its satellites by 2026, and the rest by 2029.

The FCC’s go-ahead for Kuiper is encouraging news for the many people with unreliable, slow or even nonexistent Internet connections, from rural towns in the U.S. to countries in Africa located outside the range of conventional fiberoptic or wireless networks.


Read more about Kuiper’s competitors at The Era of Satellite Constellations Has Arrived.

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