Taking on SpaceX, Amazon to invest $10 billion in satellite broadband plan

Daniel Fowler
August 2, 2020

Amazon says that when launched the network will provide "reliable, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world" with the FCC authorization allowing the company to begin work on delivering "satellite-based broadband services in the United States, helping expand internet access to households and communities across the country".

Amazon's Project Kuiper will compete with the Starlink constellation being set up by Elon Musk's SpaceX. On July 31, the program reached a key milestone with the FCC granting Amazon approval by a 5-0 vote to deploy and operate a constellation of 3,236 satellites. In addition, the company must commit to taking the equipment out of orbit after the end the project, so as not to contribute to the high amount of space waste in the region.

According to Amazon's filing on the topic with the FCC, the Kuiper system will be deployed in five phases, with services available after the company gets 578 satellites into orbit.

The company is opening a research facility in Redmond, Washington, where the satellites will be designed and tested. As of July 31, Amazon had posted listings for 110 open jobs related to Project Kuiper on its site. "We conclude that [the] grant of Kuiper's application would advance the public interest by authorizing a system created to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses", according to the agency's 24-page document of consent.

"There are still too many areas where broadband access is unreliable or in which it will not exist in any way".

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"We have heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their job or complete schoolwork because they don't have reliable internet at home", said Dave Limp, senior VP at Amazon.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also has a company called Blue Origin, a space exploration company.

SpaceX's Starlink project, which is expected to power the company's bottom line, initially secured FCC approval to operate about 4,400 satellites at about 715 miles up, a year ago got approval to operate about 1,500 of those satellites at about 342 miles.

As a condition of its approval, Amazon is required to submit an updated debris mitigation plan to the FCC once its spacecraft design is finalized.

The firm estimates it will need at least 800 satellites to offer a full service, but will have 600 in orbit later this year providing broadband to selected areas.

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