Artistic renderings of the companies’ missiles, from left to right: New Glenn, Vulcan Centaur, and Ariane 6.
Blue Origin / United Launch Alliance / Arianespace
COLORADO SPRINGS, color – Amazon announced Tuesday that it is the largest rocket deal in the history of the commercial space industry, signing up with three companies for up to 83 launches from its Project Kuiper internet satellites.
The tech giant signed contracts for 38 launches with United Launch Alliance (ULA) – a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin† 18 launches with the European company Arianespace; and 12 launches with Blue Origin, with an option for as many as 15 additional launches with the privately owned company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos†
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit, to provide high-speed internet anywhere in the world. The FCC has approved Amazon’s system in 2020, which the company has said will “invest more than $10 billion” to build.
Amazon will begin testing a few prototype Kuiper satellites with a launch planned for late this year. launch on the RS1 rocket from ABL Space, before launching operational satellites. While Amazon hasn’t said when Kuiper’s launch campaign will begin, FCC rules require the company to deploy half of its planned satellites within six years — meaning about 1,600 will be in orbit by July 2026. .
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the team has achieved milestone after milestone in every aspect of our satellite system. These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper,” Dave Limp, Amazon senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.
The terms of the contracts announced Tuesday have not been disclosed.
ULA will use its Vulcan missiles for the 38 Kuiper launches, in addition to: the nine Atlas V rocket launches for Kuiper that Amazon bought last year† Each Vulcan rocket will launch 45 Kuiper satellites into orbit, said ULA CEO Tory Bruno. ULA’s Vulcan rocket has yet to launch, but its debut mission is scheduled for late this year. While ULA has not disclosed the base price of a Vulcan launch, the US government has purchased launches on the rocket for about $112 million each.
Arianespace will fly its 18 Kuiper missions on its upcoming Ariane 6 rockets, also debuting later this year. According to Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, the Ariane 6 will be able to carry between 35 and 40 Kuiper satellites during each mission. The European rocket maker also didn’t specify Ariane 6’s pricing structure, but has previously said it was aiming for a base price tag of $77 million per launch.
Blue Origin will use its New Glenn missiles to fly the 12 Kuiper missions it will host. According to CEO Bob Smith, New Glenn will deliver 61 Kuiper satellites per mission. While Blue Origin does not currently have an official target date for New Glenn’s first launch, CNBC previously reported that the rocket is expected to debut in 2024 or later† The company has not disclosed a price for New Glenn’s launch, but an estimate by Arianespace two years ago put the Blue Origin rocket at $68 million per launch. While both companies were founded by Bezos, Blue Origin is separate from Amazon.
In total, Amazon’s Kuiper launch contracts are easily worth billions of dollars, although it’s not clear what impact competitive bidding and possible bulk order discounts would have on overall pricing. All four companies declined to comment on the charges.
Noticeably absent from Amazon’s launch payroll is the most active US rocket company: Elon Musk’s SpaceX. But even with Musk’s promise to launch competitors, Amazon and SpaceX have long been sparring for federal regulators about their respective satellite Internet networksCooper and Starlink.
SpaceX has built a significant lead over Amazon in the race to provide internet from space, with: has launched about 2,000 Starlink satellites so far, serving a total of about 250,000 subscribers†
But Amazon is betting on its global presence to fill that gap. The company says the Kuiper network “will leverage Amazon’s global logistics and operational footprint as well as Amazon Web Services (AWS) network and infrastructure.”
Kuiper competes not only with Starlink for consumer and business subscribers, but also with British-backed OneWeb, which is about two-thirds ready to launch its first-generation satellites. But in a briefing at the 37th Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Amazon’s Limp said he thinks there is room for “multiple winners” in the satellite Internet race because “there are so many unmet needs.”
Amazon is ahead in tackling a major obstacle to affordable satellite internet: the antennas customers need to connect. Amazon has touted its “experience of producing low-cost devices and services like Echo and Kindle” to lower the price of the hardware customers need for the service. Likewise, Limp noted that Amazon plans to sell its “one-click buy” satellite internet to customers just like other devices.
Limp said the Kuiper team “had a revelation” when designing the satellite antenna that will be sent to customers.
“We were able to get the cost of that under $500,” Limp said.
In comparison, SpaceX said last year that: the cost of its Starlink user terminals is about $1,300 each, lower than the original design at about $3,000. SpaceX charges customers $599 upfront for the Starlink hardware, meaning the company will cover about half the cost of acquiring subscribers.
Amazon has yet to provide a lot of information about the Kuiper satellites, such as mass or power.
“Our satellites are bigger than possibly others” [low Earth orbit] constellations you may know, so we need new, bigger launch vehicles to make it economical,” Limp said.
But the company’s design is likely nearing completion, if not already completed, as Amazon has announced it is partnering with Swiss company Beyond Gravity to build satellite dispensers to deploy the Kuiper spacecraft.