Amazon’s Project Kuiper may be a competitor for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband network, but business is business: Amazon says it has signed a contract for three launches of Project Kuiper satellites on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, supplementing scores of launches reserved on bigger rockets that haven’t yet made their debut.
“The additional launches with SpaceX offer even more capacity to support our deployment schedule,” Amazon said today in a news release. Amazon did not provide information about the potential timing of the launches, or their cost.
Like Starlink, Project Kuiper is designed to open up broadband internet access to tens of millions of people around the world who are underserved. SpaceX has a big head start in the market, with thousands of satellites already in orbit and more than 2 million subscribers for Starlink’s service.
Amazon, in contrast, had its first two prototype satellites sent into orbit on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket just this October. A couple of weeks ago, Amazon reported that the satellites passed a monthlong series of tests, opening the way for satellites to be mass-produced at a factory in Kirkland, Wash. (For what it’s worth, SpaceX’s satellites are built nearby at the company’s Redmond facility.)
Project Kuiper’s first production-quality satellites are due to be launched early next year, with beta service to begin in the latter half of 2024. At least half of Project Kuiper’s planned 3,236-satellite constellation will have to be placed in low Earth orbit by mid-2026 to comply with the terms of Amazon’s license from the Federal Communications Commission. But the vast majority of launches that Amazon has reserved would use three types of rockets that haven’t yet flown a single mission: Blue Origin’s New Glenn, ULA’s Vulcan and Arianespace’s Ariane 6.
In addition to the three newly reserved Falcon 9 launches, Amazon has slots set aside on eight Atlas V rockets — a tried-and-true product line that is reaching its final days. So even though SpaceX and Amazon could be considered satellite network rivals, and even though SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos haven’t always been on the best of terms, the Falcon 9 reservations represent something of an insurance policy for Amazon’s deployment schedule.