Amazon wins FCC approval for Kuiper satellite internet constellation

Ruben Fields
September 17, 2020

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on July 30 approved Amazon's request to operate a constellation of roughly 3,200 internet satellites in low Earth orbit.

Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, said Amazon is "doing an incredible amount of invention" so that its constellation can provide consumer-priced broadband - a feat experts say hinges on the availability of cheap, mass-produced flat-panel antennas that don't yet exist. "You have to commit", said Amazon.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is also hoping to bring internet to the masses via its Starlink satellite service-official images of which began emerging earlier this month.

"We conclude that grant of Kuiper's application would advance the public interest by authorising a system created to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses", it stated. "Combine that with Amazon's deep expertise in networking and infrastructure and its ability to finance such a huge undertaking, and I am optimistic about the impact we can have for these unserved and underserved communities".

The 3,236 satellites would have the ability to serve about 95 percent of the world's population and successfully position Amazon as a global ISP provider.

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It's also unlikely that this emerging market for low Earth orbit satellites will have only one victor; provided these networks can actually live up to their promises in terms of latency, speed and quality connection, there will likely be room for multiple providers to compete on a global scale.

The stated amount is almost the same as what Gwynne Shotwell - SpaceX COO - estimated in May 2018 as the amount needed to compete with Starlink. "Kuiper will change that", he added.

The FCC's approval for Amazon's "Project Kuiper" requires Amazon to launch the first half of its satellites by the middle of 2026, and the rest of them by the middle of 2029. Another important stipulation mandates that Amazon must finalise its design plans for the satellites and, more importantly, how the company plans to mitigate its contributions to the growing cosmic junkyard that is Earth's low orbit.

Amazon will spend $10 billion on Project Kuiper.

The FCC notes that Amazon failed to "present specific information concerning some required elements of a debris mitigation plan" in its filing, though the company claimed it plans to deorbit satellites within 355 days, which would fall well within NASA's standards if true. SpaceX building a competing constellation called Starlink and has already launched more than 500 satellites. Similarly, some of the new technologies the company will develop as part of Project Kuiper may end up being made available to customers, possibly through the new aerospace business unit.

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