Going against many predictions, Amazon has enlisted the services of its space industry rival, SpaceX, to facilitate the launch of its Kuiper Internet satellites.
The retail giant disclosed on Friday its acquisition of three Falcon 9 rocket launches from SpaceX, set to commence in mid-2025, to augment existing launch contracts and support the ambitious deployment schedule of Project Kuiper’s satellite network.
Amazon’s proactive approach in securing launch capabilities for its Kuiper broadband network previously involved procuring 68 rocket flights from various providers, excluding SpaceX.
However, the absence of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 from Amazon’s multibillion-dollar rocket purchase resulted in legal ramifications. Shareholders of a pension fund, inclusive of the company stock, filed a lawsuit in August, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty and negligence in considering SpaceX during the launch service procurement.
The company stated that the SpaceX launches will “enhance capacity” and “complement ongoing contracts” for Project Kuiper’s satellite deployment. SpaceX’s extensive Starlink fleet, exceeding 5,100 spacecraft, positions it as a direct competitor to Amazon.
Despite the rivalry between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, it appears that practical considerations have overridden personal differences, compelling Amazon to seek assistance from SpaceX.
As Amazon navigates its first-generation Kuiper network architecture, comprising 3,236 satellites orbiting at an altitude of less than 400 miles (~640km), a critical deadline looms.
The company aims to deploy half of these satellites by July 2026 to maintain network authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This necessitates an average pace of at least two launches per month from launch service providers, putting pressure on the project schedule.
Scheduled launches with the Vulcan rocket, Ariane 6, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn have faced delays, intensifying the challenge for Amazon to meet its deployment targets. The investment of approximately $2 billion in expanding United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) launch base in Florida aims to double launch capacity, with specific upgrades to support Kuiper launches. The first launch, a test flight for two satellite prototypes, lifted off in October onboard an Atlas V Rocket.
To mitigate potential setbacks, Amazon and ULA are investing in additional infrastructure and capabilities, including a second vertical hangar and mobile launch platform for Vulcan rockets. This expansion enables ULA to process up to 25 Vulcan rockets annually. The concerted effort seeks to avoid the launch delays experienced by other vehicles entering service.
As the clock ticks toward the deployment deadline, Amazon remains committed to launching over 1,600 Kuiper satellites by mid-2026. The company, headquartered in Kirkland, Washington, designed the spacecraft with flexibility in mind, allowing compatibility with various launch vehicles.
Amazon officials, while acknowledging the potential of collaborating with other launch providers, initially cited the lifting capacity of ULA’s Vulcan as a decisive factor.
Project Kuiper is part of the growing landscape of satellite megaconstellations striving to provide low-latency broadband connectivity globally. Despite the rivalry, SpaceX continues to demonstrate its willingness to collaborate with competitors, as seen in previous partnerships with OneWeb and Northrop Grumman.
The evolving dynamics in the space industry underscore the pragmatism required to navigate complex satellite deployment schedules and ensure the success of ambitious projects like Amazon’s Kuiper.