Amazon bought nine launches from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance to send its internet-beaming Kuiper satellites into space, the companies announced. It is Amazon’s first launch agreement.
The nine rockets will help it start putting the more than 3,200 satellites that will eventually make up its Project Kuiper constellation in low Earth orbit. In choosing the Atlas V, Amazon went with a reliable workhorse. In service for nearly two decades, it has had a 100 percent success rate since 2007. It’s also the rocket NASA recently turned to for its Perseverance and OSIRIS-REx missions.
The Atlas V will support the company’s initial Project Kuiper deployment. “Launching a constellation on this scale is no small feat, and we will need multiple launch vehicles and launch partners to support our deployment schedule,” the company said. For that reason, each Project Kuiper satellite is compatible with multiple launch craft. And Amazon will need more rockets to put the entire system into place on schedule. When the FCC granted the company approval for the plan, it agreed to put half the satellites in orbit by 2026 and the entire constellation by July 30th, 2029.
Amazon has committed more than $10 billion to develop its Kuiper system, “which aims to make high-speed, low-latency broadband more affordable and accessible for unserved and underserved communities around the world,” the ULA statement said.
In an application with the Federal Communications Commission, Amazon said its satellites will operate in multiple orbital planes at altitudes between 320 and 390 miles, according to Bloomberg News. Twelve ground stations will route signals to and from the satellites, operating in multiple orbital planes.
SpaceX typically launches 60 Starlink satellites with every launch. Amazon has not yet provided details on how many Kuiper satellites can be accommodated atop an Atlas 5 or when flights will begin from ULA’s launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
The growing competition in the space-based internet industry has raised alarm in some quarters about the increased possibility of close encounters, if not outright collisions creating clouds of debris that could threaten other spacecraft. And professional astronomers are worried the satellite swarms will interfere with sensitive observations by the world’s largest telescopes.
SpaceX is making efforts to reduce the reflectivity of its satellites, but the long-term impact of the planned fleets is not yet known.