Company rocket artist rendering, left to right: New Glenn, Vulcan Center and Arian 6.
Blue Origin / United Launch Alliance / Aryanspace
Amazon announced Tuesday that it has signed the largest rocket deal in the history of the commercial aerospace industry, signing three projects with three companies for the launch of its Project Kuiper Internet Satellite.
Technology giant United Launch Alliance (ULA) – a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin – has signed contracts for 38 launches; 18 launches with European company Arianspace; And 12 launches with Blue Origin, including 15 additional launch options with private ventures 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. In 2020 the FCC approved Amazon’s system, which the company said it would “invest more than 10 10 billion in construction”.
A pair of Kuiper prototype satellites scheduled for launch later this year are set to begin testing by launching ABL Space’s RS1 rocket before Amazon launches its operational satellite. Although Amazon has not announced when the Kuiper launch mission will begin, FCC rules require the company to deploy half of its planned satellite within six years – which means about 1,600 will be in orbit by July 2026.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but the team continues to push milestones across every aspect of our satellite system. These launch deals reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, “said Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon.
The terms of the deal announced Tuesday were not disclosed.
The ULA will use its Vulcan rockets for 38 Kuiper launches, in addition to the nine Atlas V rocket launches for Kuiper that Amazon bought last year. ULA’s Vulcan rocket has not yet launched, but its first mission is set for later this year. Although the ULA did not disclose the base price of a Vulcan launch, the U.S. government purchased the rockets at about $ 112 million each.
Arianespace will fly its 18 Kuiper missions on its upcoming Ariane 6 rocket, which will make its debut later this year. European rocket maker Arian 6 has not specified a price structure, but has previously said it targets a $ 77 million base price tag per launch.
Blue Origin will conduct 12 Kuiper missions using its New Glen rocket. Although Blue Origin does not currently have an official target date for New Glenn’s first launch, CNBC has previously reported that the rocket is expected to make its debut in 2024 or later. The company has not publicly disclosed the price of the New Glenn launch, but ArianeSpace estimates that two years ago the Blue Origin rocket was $ 68 million per launch. Although both companies were founded by Bezos, Blue Origin differs from Amazon.
Overall, Amazon’s Kuiper launch deals are easily worth billions of dollars, although it’s not clear how competitive bidding and potential bulk order discounts will affect the overall price. All four companies declined to comment on the cost.
Significantly missing from Amazon’s launch pay-roll is the most active US rocket company: Elon Musk’s SpaceX. But, despite Musk’s promise to launch competitors, Amazon and SpaceX have long fought in front of federal regulators over their respective satellite internet networks, Kuiper and Starlink.
SpaceX has established a large lead over Amazon in the race to deliver Internet from space, launching nearly 2,000 Starlink satellites so far, serving a total of about 250,000 subscribers.
But Amazon is betting on its global footprint to close that gap. The company said the Kuiper network would “gain access to Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint, as well as Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) networking and infrastructure.”
Amazon’s affordable satellite takes a step back in tackling a key barrier to the Internet: antennas for connecting customers. Amazon called the price of the service “accessible” and its “experience in creating low-cost devices and services like Echo and Kindle.”
Amazon has not yet provided much information about the Kuiper satellite, such as mass or power, and it has not specified the number of satellites launched into each rocket. But the company’s design is probably nearing completion, if not already finalized, as Amazon has announced that it is working with the Swiss company Beyond Gravity to build a satellite dispenser for the Kuiper spacecraft.