Amazon’s Project Kuiper plays up satellite synergies

As Amazon gears up to build and launch thousands of satellites for its Project Kuiper constellation, it’s talking up the space-based broadband network’s potential to enable new options for managing data traffic with Amazon Web Services — including private connectivity services that never touch the public internet.

Amazon also announced that Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., NTT Docomo and SKY Perfect JSAT have formed a strategic collaboration with Project Kuiper to bring advanced satellite connectivity options to their customers. NTT and SKY Perfect JSAT plan to distribute Kuiper services to enterprises and government organizations in Japan, while NTT Group companies will use Project Kuiper to boost wireless broadband connectivity for customers.

NTT and its associated companies, along with SKY Perfect JSAT, join Verizon and Vodafone as telecom partners for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which aims to provide broadband data services to tens of millions of people around the world who are currently underserved.

Such partners are expected to be among the first beta testers for Project Kuiper’s network in the second half of 2024. Two weeks ago, Amazon said that two prototype satellites achieved a “100% success rate” in a series of orbital tests, opening the way for mass production to begin next month at a factory in Kirkland, Wash.

Project Kuiper is far behind SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers. Starlink’s satellites are built in Redmond, Wash., not far from Project Kuiper’s HQ. To catch up with Starlink, Amazon plans to leverage synergies with AWS as well as the company’s other lines of business, including Prime Video and online retail sales.


Amazon says its Kuiper satellites aced orbital tests

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network streamed its first video and facilitated its first online sale during a monthlong series of orbital tests that the company says achieved a “100% success rate.”

The performance of the two prototype satellites, known as KuiperSat 1 and 2, validated Amazon’s satellite design and will open the way for mass production to begin in earnest next month at a factory in Kirkland, Wash., said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper.

“It’s been an incredible success for the team, for Kuiper, and partly because everything we did went like clockwork,” Badyal said. “There were no fires to fight, so to speak. In some ways, the team made it look very easy. As you know very well, these things are extremely difficult to do. But everything we built, all the designs are working as designed, and the results we’re getting are nominal or better.”

The prototype satellites were launched into low Earth orbit from Florida on Oct. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and after testing the satellites’ maneuverability, Amazon verified end-to-end network functionality last week. Further tests will be conducted in the months ahead while satellite production ramps up, Amazon said.

Project Kuiper is designed to provide affordable broadband internet access from above for tens of millions of people around the world who are underserved.

It’s been only four years since Kuiper came into the public spotlight — and Amazon is far behind SpaceX’s rival Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers. But Project Kuiper aims to take advantage of synergies with Amazon’s other business lines, ranging from online retail sales to Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Web Services.

The tests conducted over the past month served as a demonstration of those synergies as well as confirmation that Project Kuiper’s hardware, software and ground-based infrastructure are on the right track.


Starfish Space scrubs plan for satellite rendezvous

Five months after a tilt-a-whirl spin spoiled the debut of Starfish Space’s first spacecraft, the Tukwila, Wash.- based startup has halted efforts to put its Otter Pup back on track to demonstrate an on-orbit satellite rendezvous.

Starfish had to abandon its plan to regroup and attempt a rendezvous when the Otter Pup satellite’s electric propulsion thruster suffered an anomaly and could no longer function. “We determined that we just pushed it a little bit too far,” Starfish co-founder Austin Link told me.


Amazon says Kuiper satellites pass maneuvering tests

A month after the launch of its first prototype Project Kuiper satellites, Amazon reports that the spacecraft have demonstrated controlled maneuvering in orbit using their custom-built electric propulsion systems.

“A recent series of test firings provided critical on-orbit data to further validate our satellite design, with each test returning nominal results consistent with our design requirements,” Amazon said today in an online status report.

Today’s report suggest that Amazon’s Project Kuiper team — which is headquartered in Redmond, Wash. — is on track in its multibillion-dollar effort to create a 3,236-satellite constellation that would eventually provide broadband internet access for millions of people around the globe.

The two prototypes, known as KuiperSat 1 and 2, were sent into orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Oct. 6. They’re designed to test the hardware as well as the software, ground-based facilities and procedures that will be used for the full constellation. Amazon says that the first operational satellites are due to be launched early next year, and that beta service to selected enterprise customers could begin by the end of 2024.

At least half of the 3,236 satellites will have to be placed in orbit by mid-2026 to satisfy the requirements of Amazon’s license from the Federal Communications Commission. Mass production is due to begin by the end of the year at Amazon’s factory in Kirkland, Wash., at a rate that Amazon says will eventually ramp up to as many as four satellites per day. So, it’s in Amazon’s interest to make sure the design is fine-tuned as soon as possible.


Atlas V rocket sends Amazon’s first satellites into space

Amazon’s first satellites were launched today on a mission aimed at testing out the hardware and software for the Seattle company’s worldwide Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation.

Two prototype satellites — known as KuiperSat 1 and 2 — rode a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida into space at 2:06 p.m. ET (11:06 a.m. PT).

United Launch Alliance provided updates on what it called the Protoflight mission via its X / Twitter account. In a post-launch statement, ULA declared the mission to be successful and said that the Atlas V “precisely” delivered the satellites to orbit.

The satellites were sent into 311-mile-high (500-kilometer-high) orbits with a 30-degree inclination. In a status update, Amazon said Project Kuiper’s mission operations center in Redmond, Wash., confirmed first contact with both satellites within an hour after launch.

“Five plus years in the making. So much care, persistence, boldness and beauty,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in a posting to Instagram and Threads. “What an amazing endeavor. … Big milestone and much more to come!”

Project Kuiper, an ambitious program that was publicly unveiled in 2019, aims to provide broadband internet access — and satellite-based access to Amazon Web Services — to millions of people who are currently underserved. Amazon plans to use the prototypes — which were built at Project Kuiper’s HQ in Redmond — to test the hardware on the spacecraft, as well as ground operations and customer terminals.


Amazon satellites take their places for milestone launch

United Launch Alliance says the first prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband network have been placed atop their Atlas V rocket, with launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida set for Oct. 6.

The launch window will open on that day at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT), ULA said today in an online update.

Liftoff will mark a milestone for Project Kuiper, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into orbit to provide broadband internet access to millions of people around the world who are currently underserved. Kuiper is seen as a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers.


Amazon forges satellite deal with Vodafone and Vodacom

Vodafone and its African subsidiary, Vodacom, have made a deal to use Amazon’s yet-to-be-deployed Project Kuiper satellite broadband network to extend the reach of their 4G/5G cellular networks.

The deal, which was announced this week by Amazon as well as British-based Vodafone, would give Project Kuiper business connections in Europe and Africa that are comparable to Amazon’s previously announced partnership with Verizon for extending telecom services in the U.S.

Vodafone and its subsidiaries provide mobile and fixed telecom service to more than 300 million customers in 17 countries, and partner with mobile networks in 46 other countries. “This is our second telco partnership, and we look forward to working with other telcos,” an Amazon spokesperson told me in an email.

Like SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, Project Kuiper aims to provide broadband internet service to millions of people around the world who are underserved. SpaceX is far ahead of Amazon: While SpaceX has deployed thousands of Starlink satellites and has more than 1.5 million subscribers, Amazon hasn’t yet deployed a single Kuiper satellite.

Kuiper’s first prototypes are due for launch as early as this month, kicking off what’s expected to be an ambitious campaign to deploy half of the network’s planned 3,236 satellites by mid-2026. The satellite operations for Kuiper and Starlink are both based in Redmond, Wash.

Project Kuiper’s plan calls for selling satellite terminals to end users, as well as working with partners to connect geographically dispersed cellular antennas with the companies’ core telecom networks. The latter strategy is the focus of the newly announced deal with Vodafone and Vodacom.


Lawsuit questions Amazon’s deal on satellite launches

An Ohio-based pension fund has filed a lawsuit alleging that Amazon didn’t give due consideration to SpaceX as a potential launch provider for its Project Kuiper broadband internet satellite constellation, which is a rival for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network.

The lawsuit, filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund in the Delaware Court of Chancery, says Amazon’s board of directors acted in bad faith last year when they chose three other providers — including Blue Origin, the space venture owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — but left out SpaceX.

The other two companies were the European Arianespace consortium and United Launch Alliance, which will use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine on its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The lawsuit says the three agreements add up to Amazon’s second-largest capital expenditure, after its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017.

So far, Amazon has spent nearly $1.7 billion on the launch deal, including $585 million paid out to Blue Origin directly, the lawsuit says.

In its filing, the CB&T Fund — which owns shares in Amazon — says that the company’s directors and officers, including the board of directors’ audit committee, made “no effort to properly discharge their fiduciary duties.” It suggests that Amazon’s decisions were unduly influenced by Bezos’ outside interest in Blue Origin.

The lawsuit tracks the tiffs that have arisen between Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk over the years, as well as the setbacks experienced during the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and ULA’s Vulcan rocket.

The pension fund questioned whether the company would be able to make a federally mandated deadline to deploy half of its planned 3,236 satellites by mid-2026. It implied that the prospects would be better if Amazon had struck a deal with SpaceX, which it said “has by far the most proven launch track record in history.”

“In the face of SpaceX’s proven reliability and cost advantages, Bezos-led Amazon’s decision to not even consider SpaceX as a launch provider illustrates the glaring conflict of Bezos’ affiliation with both Amazon and Blue Origin presented, and the substantial impact these conflicts had on the board’s ability to protect the best interests of the company and its stockholders in negotiating the contracts,” the pension fund said in its suit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, legal costs and “immediate disgorgement of all profits, benefits and other compensation obtained by defendants as a result of their breaches of fiduciary duties.”

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


Starfish Space uses magnetism to rescue satellite

Two and a half months after Starfish Space’s first orbital mission teetered on the edge of failure because its Otter Pup satellite docking system took a wild tumble, the Kent, Wash.-based startup says that it has stopped the spin and is moving ahead with preparations to rendezvous with another satellite.

Mission controllers still have to make sure that Otter Pup is in working order, and they still have to identify a satellite they can link up with. But Starfish co-founder Austin Link said the team has gotten over the highest hurdle: “de-tumbling” a spacecraft that had been rotating at a rate of roughly one revolution per second.

“This is the first time that we as a company have gone and done something really unique and really extraordinary in space,” Link told me. “It wasn’t the thing that we set out to do with this mission. We still have that ahead of us. But to do that is, to me, another proof point for how excited I am to get to work with all the incredible folks we have at Starfish.”


Starfish Space wins $1.8M for satellite software

Kent, Wash.-based Starfish Space says it’s been awarded $1.8 million by AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force, to support continued development of the company’s Cephalopod software for satellite guidance, navigation and control.

The award builds on previous collaborations between Starfish and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Technically speaking, the contract is known as a Tactical Funding Increase, or TACFI. Ari Juster, strategy and operations lead at Starfish, said it was awarded as a follow-up to a $1.7 million Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract that the startup received in 2021. In a news release, Starfish co-founder Austin Link said he was “excited to continue our collaboration with AFRL.”

“Cephalopod can serve as a key technology enabling future servicing missions to benefit satellite operators, and we have found the AFRL team to be great partners in supporting its development,” Link said.

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