Amazon launches first Project Kuiper satellites in direct competition with SpaceX/Starlink

Amazon has finally joined the race to build massive constellations of satellites that can blanket the globe in internet connectivity — a move that puts the tech company in direct competition with SpaceX and its Starlink satellite Internet system.  The first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper space network, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:06 p.m. ET Friday. The Protoflight launch is the first mission in a broader commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation.  

“This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds,” Rajeev Badyal, a vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said in a statement from the company before the launch. “We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing,” he added.

“This initial launch is the first step in support of deployment of Amazon’s initiative to provide fast, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We have worked diligently in partnership with the Project Kuiper team to launch this important mission that will help connect the world. We look forward to continuing and building on the partnership for future missions.”   

United Launch Alliance cut off the livestream of the launch after the first stage of its rocket — the portion that provides the initial boost at liftoff — finished firing its engines off. The company did confirm “mission success,” and said in a news release that it “precisely” delivered the satellites. Amazon could not immediately confirm contact with the satellites.

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:06 p.m. EDT on October 6.

Photo by United Launch Alliance


If successful, the mission could queue up Amazon to begin adding hundreds more of the satellites into orbit, eventually building a network of more than 3,200 satellites that will work in tandem to beam internet connectivity to the ground.

But why wasn’t a Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos) rocket used to launch the Project Kuiper satellites?   It’s because Blue Origin has yet to launch anything into orbit. Although its suborbital space tourist rocket New Shepard has made many flights, the New Glenn rocket that it has been developing for more than a decade to take payloads like Kuiper satellites to orbit is at least three years behind schedule. Its debut flight is penciled in for next year. In April last year, Amazon announced a gigantic purchase of up to 83 launches, the largest commercial purchase of rocket launches ever. That includes 27 from Blue Origin and the rest from two other companies, Arianespace of France and United Launch Alliance of the United States. The contracts with the other companies also rely on new rockets that have not yet flown: the Ariane 6 from Arianespace and the Vulcan from United Launch Alliance.

The leading satellite Internet company is Starlink, the SpaceX subsidiary that has been growing rapidly since 2019.  SpaceX has more than 4,500 active Starlink satellites in orbit and offers commercial and residential service to most of the Americas, Europe and Australia.

The space industry is in the midst of a revolution. Until relatively recently, most space-based telecommunications services were provided by large, expensive satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which lies thousands of miles away from Earth. The drawback with this space-based internet strategy was that the extreme distance of the satellites created frustrating lag times.  Now, companies including SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are looking to bring things closer to home.

Even before those companies began to build their services, the satellite industry dreamed of delivering high-speed, space-based internet directly to consumers. There were several such efforts in the 1990s that either ended in bankruptcy or forced corporate owners to shift plans when expenses outweighed the payoffs.

Such widespread high-speed internet access could be revolutionary. As of 2021, nearly 3 billion people across the globe still lacked basic internet access, according to statistics from the United Nations. That’s because more common forms of internet service, such as underground fiber optic cables, had not yet reached certain areas of the world.

SpaceX is well ahead of the competition in terms of growing its service, and its efforts so far have occasionally thrust the company into geopolitical controversy.  The company notably faced significant blowback in late 2022 and early 2023 for preventing Ukrainian troops on the front lines of the war with Russia from accessing Starlink services, which had been crucial to Ukraine’s military operations. (The company later reversed course, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk discussed the Ukraine controversy in a recent book.)  It’s possible Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation could become part of that conversation — facing similar geopolitical pressures — if the network proves successful.

“I’m also curious if Amazon plans dual-use capabilities where government/defense will be a major client. This may result in the targeting of Kuiper like that of Starlink in Ukraine,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, in a statement.

Despite the promises of a global internet access revolution, the massive satellite megaconstellations needed to beam internet across the globe are controversial. Already, there are thousands of pieces of space junk in low-Earth orbit. And the more objects there are in space, the more likely it is that disastrous collisions could occur, further exacerbating the issue.

The Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes space-based telecom services, recently began enhancing its space debris mitigation policies.  The satellite industry has largely pledged to abide by recommended best practices, including pledging to deorbit satellites as missions conclude.

In a May blog post, Amazon previously laid out its plans for sustainability, which include ensuring its satellites are capable of maneuvering while in orbit.  Amazon also pledged to safely deorbit the first two test satellites at the end of their mission.

Separately, astronomers have also continuously raised concerns about the impact all these satellites in low-Earth orbit have on the night sky, warning that these manmade objects can intrude upon and distort telescope observations and complicate ongoing research.

Amazon addressed those concerns in a statement to CNN, saying one of the two prototype satellites it launched Friday will test antireflective technology aiming to mitigate telescope interference. The company has also been consulting with astronomers from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, according to Amazon spokesperson Brecke Boyd.  However, SpaceX has made similar commitments.

It remains to be seen how well Project Kuiper will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink. And while Starlink already has more than 1 million customers, documents recently obtained by the Wall Street Journal showed that the SpaceX megaconstellation hasn’t been as successful as once projected.

As far as consumer price points go: People can purchase a Starlink user terminal for a home for about $600 plus the cost of monthly service.

Amazon has said it hopes to produce Project Kuiper terminals for as low as about $400 per device, though the company has not yet begun demonstrating or selling the terminals. The company has not revealed a price for monthly Kuiper services.

SpaceX has had the clear advantage of using its own Falcon 9 rockets to launch batches of Starlink satellites to orbit.

Amazon does not have its own rockets. And while the Jeff Bezos-founded rocket company Blue Origin is working on a rocket capable of reaching orbit, the project is years behind schedule.

For now, Kuiper satellites are launching on rockets built by United Launch Alliance, a close partner of Blue Origin. In addition to ULA and Blue Origin, Amazon has a Project Kuiper launch contract with European launch provider Arianespace.

On August 28, The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, which owns a stake in Amazon, filed a lawsuit against the company over the launch contracts. The lawsuit alleges Amazon executives “consciously and intentionally breached their most basic fiduciary responsibilities” in part by forgoing the option of launching Project Kuiper satellites on rockets built by SpaceX, which the suit claims is “one of the most cost-effective launch providers.”

“The claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

If all goes to plan, Amazon said it intends to launch its first production satellites early next year and begin offering beta testing to initial customers by the end of 2024, according to a news release.




2 thoughts on “Amazon launches first Project Kuiper satellites in direct competition with SpaceX/Starlink

  1. After multiple delays, the first two prototype versions of Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites, Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2, finally blasted off on United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s Atlas V rocket on Friday.

    Once operational, they will allow Amazon to test out its upcoming satellite broadband service, which like Space-X’s Starlink and OneWeb will deliver broadband connectivity in hard-to-reach areas via a constellation of 3,236 satellites.

    Like many other satellite operators, the Project Kuiper network will run on the Ka band. The satellites will connect to antennas installed at the customer’s premises, and to a network of gateway antennas connected to the Internet and public and private cloud infrastructure. Beyond that, Amazon hasn’t given much away when it comes to the specifics of the radio interface.

    “It appears that it is taking the same vertically integrated approach, based on proprietary technology, to Starlink,” remarked Peter Kibutu, advanced technology lead for non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) at research firm TTP, in a research note.

    “Amazon’s long-term plan should be to build a constellation based on 3GPP 5G NTN standards to benefit from a wider ecosystem of innovation and the ongoing performance enhancements offered by industry best practices,” he said. “This approach also enables integration with terrestrial networks and user terminals, that require conformance with standardised technology. This will enable Amazon to deliver broadband services to the mass-market and cover a wider range of use cases.”

    Launching a 5G NTN-compatible network would certainly offer Project Kuiper a significant point of difference, one that could prove crucial by the time it enters commercial service.

    The reason is, Kuiper is running late to what is becoming an increasingly-crowded party.

    Amazon originally intended for its prototype satellites to enter orbit in October 2022, but a late change of launch partner from ABL Space Systems to ULA pushed the schedule back. It hoped to send them up on ULA’s next generation Vulcan rocket in May, but that deadline came and went too.

    Now, a year later than planned, Amazon is finally able to do some real-world testing of its LEO network.

    “We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing,” said Rajeev Badyal, Project Kuiper’s vice president of technology, in a statement last week. “This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds.”

    No doubt, but in the meantime, Starlink already operates multiple thousands of LEO satellites and has plans to increase its constellation to 12,000 by 2026. OneWeb has completed its initial deployment of 618 satellites and is already working on its second-generation satellites.

    That’s before you consider the multitude of well-established geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellite operators already delivering coverage; pioneering satellite direct-to-device (D2D) technology, like Lynk as AST SpaceMobile; and those focused on 5G NTN IoT services, like Sateliot.

    Meanwhile, Amazon said its first production satellites are “on track” to launch in the first half of 2024, and beta testing with early commercial customers is expected to begin by the end of this year.

    This in all likelihood means that despite Kibutu’s sound reasoning – and the fact that the Ka band overlaps with 5G NR frequencies – Amazon is probably too far along its development track to switch technologies now.

  2. Orlando Business Journal:

    Amazon has lined up 77 launches to deploy its constellation of 3,236 telecommunications satellites, and the first two are scheduled for Dec. 30 and 31, according to

    Amazon calls this the “largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history,” though the technicality of the size of that procurement obscures a pertinent detail. Starlink, the SpaceX constellation that Amazon’s Project Kuiper will compete with, already has deployed more than 4,600 satellites with more to come and hasn’t had to procure launch vehicles because it has its own. SpaceX has been using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to deploy its satellites.

    Still, the procurement is good for Central Florida, since two of the contracted companies launch here.

    The Project Kuiper launches will happen aboard Arianespace, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin rockets, with all the United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin launches happening out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, according to Project Kuiper Senior PR Manager Brecke Boyd. Of the 77, 18 are contracted to Arianespace, departing from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

    The economic impact of each launch has positive ripple effects throughout the region, responsible for jobs, contracts and services directly linked to the launches. On top of that, a 2020 study by Florida Tech economics professor Mike Slotkin and published by Florida’s Space Coast Tourism Journal showed that when it comes to Brevard County tourism, each launch comes with $2.42 million in economic impact thanks to crowds of launch watchers as many as 95,000 deep. Slotkin’s analysis of a 2019 Falcon Heavy launch saw 2,102 day trippers and 1,487 overnighters coming to the coast.

    If all goes as planned, the satellites launched Dec. 30 will travel to lower Earth orbit via Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which to date has not yet completed a launch. The Dec. 31 launch vehicle is a United Launch Alliance Vulcan. United Launch Alliance is a partnership between Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) and Boeing Defense, Space & Security (NYSE: BA).

    Project Kuiper is the moniker for Amazon’s global broadband network, and a “protoflight” mission launching two prototype Kuiper satellites went up on Oct. 6 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Those prototypes, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, are part of testing activities, routing data from the internet through the company’s Amazon Web Services-powered ground network. Data is traveling from a ground gateway antenna up to the prototype satellites and then down to customer terminal antennas at Amazon’s test site, according to a company fact sheet. The prototype satellites will not be part of the future constellation.

    Amazon launches out of Central Florida. The company also is building a roughly 100,000-square-foot satellite processing facility at Kennedy Space Center

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