The Kuiper project and Amazon’s satellite broadband plan take off

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On top of an Amazon press release sent this week, there is a disturbing picture. It’s a rocket emblazoned with an American flag and, above it, the smiling Amazon logo, which explodes into the sky. The company is officially taking its business into space, and Jeff Bezos isn’t even providing the ride.

Amazon recently announced that, by the end of next year, a startup called ABL Space Systems would provide two prototype satellites for the Kuiper Project, the company’s effort to build a low Earth orbit, or LEO, constellation of satellites capable of transmitting Internet connectivity to Earth. Amazon says it will eventually roll out 3,236 of these satellites “that will provide fast and affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world.” It doesn’t hurt that becoming a space internet service provider could also help grow the company’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Amazon says satellites it will work with Verizon to provide LTE and 5G services in hard-to-reach places.

It’s hard to argue with the idea of ​​getting more people online. In some parts of the world, broadband access it is a human right. But if you’re worried about Amazon’s growing dominance over everything, it might seem daunting that one of the world’s most powerful companies is launching satellites into space and will soon be directing internet traffic around the planet. Also, thanks to AWS, the new satellite-based Internet business is set to be successful. As Babak Beheshti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology, she told me last year“Essentially, Amazon will actually be its biggest customer to really set the pump on for the revenue stream.”

But given the history of telecommunications monopolies here on Earth, it may actually not be such a bad thing for more companies to join the internet space race.

“Increased market competition in the coming years is likely to drive innovation that will lead to increased quality of service and, ideally, more affordable prices,” said Mark Buell, North American Regional Vice President for the Internet Society. an international advocacy organization for open development and use of the Internet.

Amazon isn’t alone on a mission to create a fast and resilient internet service using satellite constellations. Starlink, a SpaceX project, it already has more than 1,700 satellites in low earth orbit, and the company says so it has about 90,000 people currently testing the service, each paying $ 99 per month (plus a $ 499 satellite dish fee) for the privilege. OneWeb, a British company that emerged from bankruptcy one year ago, has over 350 satellites in orbit now, about half of the total that it provides for its constellation.

The idea behind all of these services is relatively simple, as far as space things are concerned. A ground station with a fiber connection transmits the data to the constellation of satellites, and the satellites relay it back to customers. Despite literally going into space and back, connections can be fast too. The Kuiper project affirms its prototype speeds provided up to 400Mbps, much faster than the average speed of broadband in the United States. And because connectivity comes from the sky, virtually anywhere on the planet can get Internet service without the need to tuck cables into the mountains, under the ocean, through the rainforest, or wherever the remote location is. Amazon itself may be in a unique position to do this particularly well.

“Providing telecommunications services is more than just launching satellites into space,” Buell said. “The infrastructure has to be set up in the field. Amazon has made significant investments in fiber optic cables to connect its data centers and, above all, Amazon excels in logistics, which will be required to manage more than 3,200 satellites. ”

Bringing more people online, in itself, is a completely valid goal for Amazon, but again, the company’s ambitions may extend beyond that. Last year, AWS construction completed on six ground stations as part of a new initiative to offer its customers easier access to control satellite communications and process satellite data. The business is called AWS Ground Station, of course, and soon enough, it appears that Amazon will have its satellites in orbit, potentially informing any AWS service it decides to offer in the future.

However, that Amazon will launch Project Kuiper not only to sell Internet services to customers but also to increase its AWS offerings is hardly a scandal. The commercial space industry is in its infancy and there are many benefits to understanding the basic logistics of launching rockets and satellites into orbit and experimenting with what’s possible. This is what Jeff Bezos has been doing since stepping down earlier this year as CEO of the company he founded. His space company Blue Origin recently announced its intention to build a “mixed-use business park” in orbit that would lease parts of a space station for commercial use. The habitable satellite could go online when the International Space Station is retired, probably at the end of this decade.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk said he wants Starlink’s income to pay for his Starship project and missions to colonize other planets. The billionaire said in 2019 that the space broadband business is “a key stepping stone towards the creation of a self-sustaining city on Mars and a base on the moon.” The spaceship has already been selected as the Artemis mission vehicle, which plan to land humans on the moon by 2024.

But neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin will bring Amazon’s new satellites into space. It appears that California-based startup ABL Space Systems, which specializes in transporting smaller payloads to orbit on cheaper rockets, has offered Amazon a deal. ABL Space Systems, which hasn’t launched a rocket yet, says it can carry nearly 1.5 tons of payload into low earth orbit on its RS1 rocket, the same one that will carry the Amazon Kuiper satellites, for $ 12 million per launch. A launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 it can cost up to $ 62 million. And Blue Origin seems to be more focused about launching celebrities into space.

What sets Project Kuiper apart from its competitors doesn’t have much to do with who is piloting rockets or going to Mars, or even how Amazon is launching a new business into space. For many, the success of these projects could mean the difference between having access to the Internet and not having it. Currently, at least 21 million Americans I don’t have access to quality broadband, according to the FCC, which means countless children who cannot access online training tools and patients who cannot access telemedicine, among other things. So, if Amazon wants to get more people online, well, there are a lot of benefits for a lot of people. And for Amazon, many potential new customers.

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