Amazon’s Kuiper project is close to competing with Starlink. The project has announced that it has booked dozens of launches of carrier vehicles to get its Internet satellites into orbit. The satellites will fly on powerful rockets of three types, currently being developed by the European space carrier Arianespace, the American United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin – the space company of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
n total, up to 83 launches are expected in the next 5 years, which will allow Project Kuiper to launch some of the planned 3,236 satellites into orbit. Amazon does not disclose how much it will cost. However, according to James Watkins, the speaker of Project Kuiper, the company has invested billions of dollars in three deals. Amazon also called the deal “the largest commercial purchase of carrier vehicles in history.”
Project Kuiper needs quite a bit of rocketry in order to get its future megaconstellation into space. The Amazon subsidiary plans to create a massive array of satellites in low Earth orbit, designed to provide low-latency broadband internet service to all parts of the globe.
To tap into the system, users must purchase one of Project Kuiper’s user antennas, which the company previewed in late 2020. The terminals scan the sky, looking for satellites that are overhead. Those satellites relay signals from ground stations — facilities already plugged into existing fiberoptic internet infrastructure — to and from the user antennas.
The concept is fairly similar to SpaceX’s ever-growing Starlink program — a planned constellation of tens of thousands of satellites also designed to provide broadband internet from low Earth orbit. However, Starlink is already quite a few years ahead of Project Kuiper. So far, SpaceX has launched more than 2,000 satellites into orbit and has begun limited service around the world, with 250,000 subscribers using Starlink Internet, including Ukrainians. Project Kuiper has yet to launch any of its satellites.
However, the company is hoping to change that this year. A year ago, Amazon announced that it had purchased nine launches of the United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas V rocket to send batches of satellites into orbit. And in November, Prooject Kuiper plans to launch its first two prototype satellites on an experimental new rocket called the RS1 being developed by startup ABL Space Systems.
Перший політ прототипа має відбутись у четвертому кварталі 2022 року, однак це залежить від того, чи буде ракета готова вчасно. Одного разу термін її розробки вже подовжився на 3 місяці через невдале тестування. Щодо інших ракет, які нещодавно забронювали у Project Kuiper, то запуск Arianespace та ULA очікується також у кінці 2022 року, а Blue Origin полетить на орбіту не раніше 2023.