20.03.2023 Space Internet Satellites Space

Project Kuiper: Amazon to deploy its satellite broadband network

Writer Samira Joineau
project kuiper amazon space
© Amazon

Amazon displayed earlier last week Project Kuiper, aiming at providing affordable broadband through the deployment of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) by 2026. It appears to vie with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other broadband internet providers.

In response to the observation that billions of people at global-level do not benefit from reliable access to broadband internet, Amazon decided to introduce Project Kuiper. Thanks to satellite broadband services, Amazon has the ambition to fill these coverage gaps. 

“We feel a responsibility to use our success and scale to help bridge the digital divide” – Amazon

As Amazon explains, Project Kuiper is divided into three main parts, being ground infrastructure, satellites, and customer terminals. Ground infrastructure encompasses gateway antennas that “securely send and receive customer data to and from satellites, along with telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) antennas that keep the satellites properly operating”. 

Satellite development represents the second part of the project, and is planned to operate in low Earth orbit (LEO) and provide “data traffic to and from our gateway antennas and customers”. Project Kuiper’s initial satellite constellation design counts 3.236 satellites. In this context, a constellation refers to a group of similar satellites working together with coordinated movements to achieve a common purpose, being in this case providing broadband coverage. 

“We’ll definitely be beta testing with commercial customers in 2024” – Dave Limp, Senior Vice President (Amazon Devices)

Last week, Amazon unveiled early engineering models for three customer terminals, so as to balance different levels of performance and affordability. The ultra-compact model provides speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), the standard one supplies up to 400 Mbps; and finally, the largest model – best-intended for enterprise, governments, and telco applications – delivers up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

Amazon announced it will start the satellite mass-production process later this year. Overseeing Amazon’s consumer devices powerhouse, Dave Limp specified that the company projects to build “three to five” satellites a day in order to achieve its initial objective. The latter being to launch half of the constellation by 2026, in order to respect a regulatory mandate. 

In the meantime, Amazon contemplates launching a pair of prototype satellites in the upcoming months aboard a new rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. 

Overall, Project Kuiper appears as a similar concept to SpaceX’s Starlink broadband megaconstellation, which already amounts to almost 4.000 satellites in LEO. And the company does not plan to end it there. On its side, Amazon seems to have launched in a universe race so as to compete directly with SpaceX.