Amazon has contracted up to 83 rocket launches from three different providers to deploy its Project Kuiper constellation of high-speed Internet services satellites. The deals with Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance represent the largest commercial launch vehicle acquisition in history, Amazon said in a statement.
Project Kuiper aims to provide high-speed internet from space and compete with similar offerings from Space X’s Starlink service and UK-based company OneWeb. Amazon’s license from the US Federal Communications Commission requires Project Kuiper to launch at least half of its planned constellation of 3,236 satellites by July 2026 and at least 90% of its constellation by July 2029. None of the three rockets Amazon has selected in its latest deals have flown yet, Bloomberg reports.
Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will perform twelve launches for Kuiper, with an option for another fifteen launches, using its New Glenn rocket. New Glenn has experienced multiple delays, including a recent one that prevented it from flying this year as previously planned, Jarrett Jones, senior vice president of Blue Origin, said at the Satellite 2022 conference last month.
United Launch Alliance won the majority of Amazon’s contract, 38 launches, with its new Vulcan Centaur rocket. Based in Centennial, Colorado, ULA is a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. ULA is planning a maiden flight for the Vulcan this year, a spokeswoman said. Last year, Amazon signed a contract for nine launches from ULA using its old Atlas V rocket as part of a separate deal for Project Kuiper satellites.
According to the latest deals from the retail giant, Arianespace will offer 18 launches with its Ariane 6 rocket, which is still under development. The Paris-based European space consortium is planning the first test flight of Ariane 6 later this year and commercial service entry into service from 2023. Arianespace and ULA are among the most established launch providers in the industry. Blue Origin is a relatively new player in the business of entering the missile payload commercial sector.
Blue Origin has not said when its new Glenn rocket will begin flight test or commercial service. “We are making great progress at New Glenn and will be flying when we are ready,” spokeswoman Sara Blask said in an email.
The new Glenn will be powered by seven BE-4 liquid oxygen/liquefied natural gas engines, the same model ULA has chosen to power the first stage of its Vulcan vehicle. Blue Origin has supplied some BE-4 engines to ULA for testing and they have “performed great” on the test benches, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said at the satellite conference on March 22.
Late last year, Project Kuiper announced plans to launch two prototype satellites from Florida in 2022 with ABL Space Systems’ new RS1 rocket.
Source: La Verdad