Amazon makes a satellite launch deal with SpaceX

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.


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.

Cosmic Space

SpaceX’s Starship gets farther on its second test flight

SpaceX’s Starship and its Super Heavy booster blew through the primary objective for their second test flight today, but both rocket stages blew up sooner than the company hoped.

SpaceX took the day as a win — based not only on a successful liftoff from its South Texas launch pad a little after 7 a.m. CT (5 a.m. PT), but also on the successful execution of a hot-stage separation maneuver two and a half minutes after launch.


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.


Orbite begins the countdown to space training programs

After getting its start in Seattle and testing its business model in France and Florida, a space travel venture called Orbite is ready to start signing up customers for private-sector astronaut training programs.

And although it’ll be a while before those programs begin in earnest, Orbite CEO Jason Andrews says the first 500 people to make a refundable deposit will be in for some astronaut-worthy experiences between now and then.

“What we are announcing today is just the beginning,” he said.

Orbite plans to invite early-stage customers in its Founders Club to attend a series of space-adjacent events, starting with a rocket-launch watch party in Florida next spring and continuing with gatherings that could include an underwater adventure in the Florida Keys and a trip to Antarctica.

Andrews said Founders Club members could spend part of their $5,000 pre-booking deposit on one of those tours, or put all the money toward a training program at Orbite’s Astronaut Training and Spaceflight Gateway Campus in Florida.

That training facility, mapped out by French industrial designer Phillippe Starck, is due to be built at a site that’s yet to be disclosed in the area around Florida’s Space Coast and Orlando. Protracted business negotiations led to delays in the development schedule, but the facility is currently set to open in 2026, Andrews said.


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.

Fiction Science Club

Get a reality check on plans to build cities in space

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos may harbor multibillion-dollar dreams of sending millions of people to live on Mars, on the moon and inside free-flying space habitats — but a newly published book provides a prudent piece of advice: Don’t go too boldly.

It’s advice that Kelly and Zach Weinersmith didn’t expect they’d be giving when they began to work on their book, titled “A City on Mars.” They thought they’d be writing a guide to the golden age of space settlement that Musk and Bezos were promising.

“We ended up doing a ton of research on space settlements from just every angle you can imagine,” Zach Weinersmith says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “This was a four-year research project. And about two and a half years in, we went from being fairly optimistic about it as a desirable, near-term likely possibility [to] probably unlikely in the near term, and possibly undesirable in the near term. So it was quite a change. Slightly traumatic, I would say.”

The Weinersmiths found that there was precious little research into the potential long-term health effects of living on the moon or Mars — and zero research into the potential effects on human reproduction and development. Moreover, the legal uncertainties surrounding property rights in space seemed likely to lead to disputes that would tie diplomats and military planners in knots.

“In our effort to create Mars settlements to make a Plan B, to make ourselves safer as a species, are we actually lowering existential risk?” Zach says. “I think it’s absolutely unclear — and there’s a good argument that we might even increase it.”


Jeff Bezos and NASA’s chief share a peek at lunar lander

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson today provided a look at coming attractions in the form of a social-media glimpse at Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander, festooned with a golden feather logo.

In a series of posts to X / Twitter and Instagram, Bezos and Nelson showed off a mockup of the nearly three-story-tall Blue Moon MK1 cargo lander, which is taking shape at Blue Origin’s production facility in Huntsville, Ala.

“MK1’s early missions will pave the way and prove technologies for our MK2 lander for @nasa’s Human Landing System,” Bezos said on Instagram. He also recapped a few technical details — noting that the MK1 is designed to deliver up to 3 tons of cargo to anywhere on the moon’s surface, and that it’ll fit in the 7-meter fairing of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. New Glenn is slated for its first launch next year.


Zeno Power tests a new type of nuclear heat source

Zeno Power says it has successfully completed its first demonstration of a new type of radioisotope heat source that could be used to generate off-grid power in settings ranging from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the moon.

The demonstration — performed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. — took advantage of the energy provided by the radioactive decay of strontium-90. Zeno said its tests confirmed that the company’s technology can increase the specific power of its heat source compared with previously available strontium-90 heat sources.

Zeno uses radioisotope heat sources as the building blocks for its power-generating systems, which are designed to convert constant thermal energy into electricity. Strontium-90, which is typically created as a byproduct of nuclear fission, is an abundant fuel for such systems — but existing strontium-based power systems tend to be bulky. Zeno’s design could generate more power with less bulk, opening the way for a wider range of applications.

The work at PNNL involved radioactive and non-radioactive activities, including chemical processing and fuel fabrication, materials handling and heat source characterization. The test data will support further development of heat sources.

Exit mobile version