Amazon Joins the Satellite Constellation Party

Added 2019-04-05

Yesterday, Amazon unveiled plans to deploy a satellite constellation to Low Earth Orbit. The company said that the initiative is called Project Kuiper – a reference to a region at the outskirts of the Solar System consisting of a large number of small bodies. Amazon will launch 3,236 satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved parts of the world.

The project is in line with the current trend. Space economy is growing and so is the demand for data. According to Morgan Stanley, the global space industry will boast revenue of about $1.1 trillion in 2040 with half of it coming from satellite broadband. Amazon stands to benefit from synergy with another Bezos’ business, aerospace company Blue Origin. Amazon will launch the constellation using Blue Origin’s New Glenn heavy-lift rocket that is scheduled to come online in 2021.

However, the company is likely to face stiff competition from OneWeb and SpaceX. OneWeb, a communications company founded by Greg Wyler, plans a constellation of 650 satellites and launched the first six satellites this February. Following the successful launch, OneWeb raised $1.25 billion from SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm, and the government of Rwanda. Amazon’s foray into the constellation business must come as an unpleasant surprise to OneWeb given that the company booked five New Glenn launches for its own satellite network last year. SpaceX plans to launch 11,943 satellites to Low Earth Orbit, out of which 4,425 will operate in Ka- and Ku-band and 7,518 in V-band. Last year, the company launched two test satellites, named Tintin A and Tintin B, while the first batch of Starlink satellites is scheduled to be deployed this May.

Out of the three companies, SpaceX is arguably in the best position to be the first company to deploy a constellation. Elon Musk’s company boasts the most powerful operational rocket in the world, Falcon Heavy, and develops a super heavy-lift launch vehicle not-so-aptly-named Super Heavy. More importantly, SpaceX’s reusability capabilities give the company an edge in the form of a significant cost reduction. In contrast, OneWeb has to rely on a third-party launch provider, and Blue Origin does not have an orbital vehicle as of yet. Nevertheless, Amazon’s deep pockets will surely make for an exciting space race.

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