In the first commercial agreement aimed at beginning the launch of Amazon Project Kuiper satellites, Amazon announced in early April that it had purchased as many as 83 launches from Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance. All of the launch capacity is in aid of getting satellites into low-earth orbit for Amazon’s broadband service designed to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink.
The company intends to launch more than 3,200 satellites to commence its Kuiper service. Does this mean competition in the satellite broadband service space for RVers and other mobile users? Well, certainly not in the immediate future.
When will Kuiper service begin?
Amazon has yet to launch any of the satellites for its planned service. The company has recently stated that the total number necessary in the mega constellation to start the service will not be in orbit until 2026—nearly four years away.
Amazon declined to disclose the deal’s financial terms but has said it plans to spend billions of dollars on launch contracts as part of a startup cost of more than $10 billion.
So, with the deployment of adequate Kuiper satellite capacity years away, SpaceX’s Starlink WI-Fi for mobile customers needn’t worry that they will regret not waiting to see what Amazon offers in terms of service, cost, and WI-Fi availability. Yet the prospect of competition is a generally good thing for all users, likely leading to lower costs. It currently costs a little more than $600 to acquire the Starlink hardware necessary to use the broadband network, plus $110 per month for the service, and another $25 to access the roaming feature necessary to make the service functional RVers.
“Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said. “This approach reduces the risk associated with launch vehicle stand-downs and supports long-term competitive pricing for Amazon.”
Amazon must launch half of its satellites by mid-2026
Amazon needs to expedite a lot of satellite launches soon to comply with the requirements of its Federal Communications Commission license, which was awarded back in mid-2020. That license stipulates that Amazon must launch half of its satellites by mid-2026 and have the complete constellation in orbit not more than three years later. Amazon spokespersons stated that the new launch contracts will put the company “on track to meet deadlines set forth in the FCC license.”
“These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president for Amazon Devices and Services, in a recent statement.
There is a technology and regulatory feud between SpaceX/Starlink’s CEO Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The latter has petitioned the FCC to thwart some of SpaceX’s fluid Starlink launch and constellation-building plans.
SpaceX’s Starlink still has the upper hand
“It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation,” Elon Musk stated in a tweet from January 2021.
Clearly and not unexpectedly, SpaceX will eventually have one or more competitors in the satellite broadband space. But SpaceX has a clear four- or five-year advantage with what it has created thus far.
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