Earlier this month, Amazon announced it had finalized “the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history.”
The tech giant penned a total of 83 launch contracts spread across three companies: Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and Arianespace.
In the coming years, these firms will launch Amazon’s satellite internet service, called Project Kuiper, which is set to rival SpaceX’s Starlink.
Starlink is already operational, with more than 2,000 satellites in orbit, meaning Amazon has a lot of catching up to do, as it’s yet to perform its first test launches, slated for later this year. Still, Jeff Bezos’ company believes it has a few aces up its sleeve that will set Project Kuiper apart from SpaceX’s offering.
Launch agreements reflect “incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper”
Much like Starlink, Project Kuiper’s stated goal is to provide “high-speed, low latency broadband” to remote locations and organizations with poor internet connectivity, including businesses, hospitals, government agencies, and individual homes.
“We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system,” Dave Limp, Senior Vice President for Amazon Devices & Services, said in a recent press statement. “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.”
Though there’s understandably more available information regarding SpaceX’s already-operational Starlink service, we can draw a direct comparison between the amount of satellites both companies aim to launch into orbit. SpaceX has recently been authorized to launch an additional 12,000 satellites by the FAA, and it is seeking authorization to launch a total of approximately 30,000 of its Starlink satellites. Amazon wants to launch a relatively low number by comparison: it currently only plans to launch 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Starlink service is currently priced at $110 per month, with an additional $99 deposit and a $599 hardware fee for the satellite dish, including tax and shipping fees. Amazon is yet to announce its pricing for Project Kuiper internet, though it said in its recent statement it “will leverage Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint, as well as Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) networking and infrastructure” to make its service more accessible and affordable. Amazon also has a strong track record when it comes to household electronics devices, such as Amazon Echo, and it might be able to leverage its expertise in this area to lower costs.
Will Amazon deliver on its 400 megabits per second promise?
Amazon also claims it will offer users up to 400 megabits per second of speed, which is favorable compared to Starlink’s speed of between 100 and 200 megabits per second. However, Starlink premium offers up to 500 megabits per second at a cost of $500 per month.
SpaceX has also incrementally increased its internet speed by adding more satellites to its constellation, so Amazon will have to launch satellites to orbit before it can provide any concrete data on the speed of its internet service — and it is relying largely on launch vehicles that are yet to make a maiden voyage, such as Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. Amazon does state that it will launch its first two prototype Kuiper satellites to orbit this year, meaning we will know more about its service very soon.
Besides the promises of high-speed internet anywhere, both companies will also have to contend with criticism related to the issue of space debris. SpaceX will likely be the worst offender, considering it aims to launch tens of thousands more satellites than Amazon. In fact, NASA has warned that SpaceX’s satellite could reduce our capacity for detecting potentially catastrophic asteroid impacts before they occur. Then, of course, there’s the environmental impact of sending so many payloads into orbit. Is high-speed satellite internet worth the potential costs to the planet?