The agreement involves two veteran rocket scientists — United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and European company Arianespace, as well as Blue Origin, a rocket company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos that is still working on the rocket. a rocket capable of going into orbit.
Bezos remains the executive chairman of Amazon.
The contracts include up to 83 launches in total, in what Amazon calls one of the largest commercial launch deals ever made. Launches will take place in about five years. All three rockets that Amazon plans to use for these missions are not yet in operation, but are expected to be operational later this year or in 2023. Financial details were not disclosed.
It is noteworthy that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is missing from the list of suppliers. While SpaceX has been working to dominate the commercial launch industry with its reusable rockets, Amazon’s Internet space business called Project Kuiper is expected to compete directly with SpaceX’s own satellite Internet business, Starlink. Starlink is well ahead of Project Kuiper and other competitors as the company has already deployed more than 2,000 satellites and signed on with more than 145,000 customers worldwide, SpaceX said in January.
However, it is not uncommon for a space company to launch a satellite on a competitor’s rocket. Specifically, SpaceX has signed a satellite launch agreement for Britain’s OneWeb, which is building another constellation of Internet satellites in low Earth orbit, with an orbital area extending some 1,200 miles from the Earth’s surface. (OneWeb entered into this agreement after its previous launch contract using Russian missiles was canceled due to the war in Ukraine.)
However, Bezos and Musk are believed to have a particularly tense relationship, with Musk frequently tweeting his barbs at Bezos, and their companies in intense competition for high-profile contracts with NASA and the US military.
Amazon Project Kuiper has been in silent development for many years. Federal regulators gave OK
for the company to launch its satellites in 2020, and several specific updates have been released since then.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, Arianespace, which already has orbital rockets but plans to use its future Ariane 6 rocket for Project Kuiper launches, has signed a contract for 18 missions.
ULA received the lion’s share of the deal, with plans for 38 launches. ULA will use its Vulcan Centaur rocket, which was due to launch in early 2022 but has been delayed due to development issues with the engines it will use – the BE-4 engine to be built by Bezos’ Blue Origin. Vulcan Centaur was able to fly for the first time later this year
Blue Origin will also use the BE-4 for its New Glenn rocket. now scheduled to enter service in 2023.
. Amazon has signed a contract for 12 launches of this ship when it is ready to fly.
It’s not yet clear how far Project Kuiper is in the development process. Such constellations include sophisticated satellite technology as well as sophisticated ground terminals that can track satellites transmitting internet signals as they orbit the planet.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the team continues to push through the milestones in every aspect of our satellite system,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.