Amazon is taking on SpaceX's internet satellite constellation, Starlink. The company signed a deal with three companies to launch up to 83 of its Project Kuiper internet satellites, marking what Amazon calls the biggest rocket deal in commercial space history.
The company made a deal with United Launch Alliance for 38 launches; signed on with Arianespace for 18 launches; and partnered with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin for 12 launches, with the option for Amazon to add up to 15 more. Notably absent on the launch list is SpaceX, but then that's to be expected given what's going into orbit.
Project Kuiper plans to send satellites to low-Earth orbit over the course of five years, and it has two prototypes prepared to launch this year. Those satellites would provide a similar internet service to Starlink, Elon Musk's low-Earth orbit satellite constellation. That would once again put him in competition with Bezos — who is no longer Amazon's CEO but remains its executive chairman — for billionaire space supremacy.
Dave Limp, senior vice president at Amazon for Devices and Services, told the Wall Street Journal that the company signed these deals to help meet a deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission. The agency gave Project Kuiper the authorization to deploy 3,236 broadband satellites last year. The terms require at least half of those satellites be operational within six years.
“We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system. These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper,” Limp said in a statement.
Limp declined to tell the Journal exactly how much the company is spending on these launches, but he said that it's in the billions. Amazon said it would "invest more than $10 billion" to build this network of high-speed internet when it came to an agreement with the FCC.
The company is making it clear that there's room for another big player in the satellite internet game aside from Starlink. But Amazon is playing catch-up to Musk's satellite internet service, which has roughly 2,000 satellites already in orbit and 250,000 subscribers, according to Elon himself.
But Amazon is clearly putting some serious money into its forthcoming satellite internet service, and Limp told the Journal there can be more than one satellite broadband company to serve more unconnected and underserved people around the world. Of course, doing so will also increase the risk of space junk and mess up astronomers' view of the heavens, so while the world could well use more satellite internet providers, low-Earth orbit might be a different story.