May 26, 2022

Amazon is finally taking drastic action on its Kuiper communications satellite constellation, having secured 83 launch rights from United Launch Alliance, Arianespace and, of course, Blue Origin. Interestingly, none of the boosters used have ever flown before, but there is plenty of time to change as the Amazon constellation of 3,236 takes shape.

At the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, it was announced that the contracts were not fixed-price, and an Amazon spokesperson declined to offer any margin. The company said it received 18 Ariane 6s (the company’s largest contract), 12 New Glens from Blue Origin and 38 Vulcan Centaurs from ULA. There is an option to purchase an existing ULA contract for additional New Glens and 9 Atlas Vs.

The tally on the back of the napkin puts a lower limit on the value of this new deal at around $10 billion, though of course that’s just part of a much larger operation (and is heavily dependent on startup costs, which fluctuate all the time). mountaineering). ) just show that Amazon is ready to commit to moving forward on the 11-figure scale.

“Making it possible to run multiple carriers has been an important part of our strategy,” said Rajeev Badial, vice president of technology at Kuiper, in an Amazon press release. And indeed, they have been talking about this for some time. “This approach minimizes the risk associated with disabling launchers and maintains competitive long-term pricing at Amazon, providing cost savings that we can pass on to our customers. These larger, heavier rockets also mean we can at least deploy our group for more launches, which helps streamline our launch and deployment schedules.”

Amazon declined to provide any details about timing or logistics, but a press event is scheduled for the space symposium this morning. If anything important is mentioned, I will update this story in more detail.

One notable absence from the list of launch providers is SpaceX, which is a natural omission given the intense but largely inexplicable rivalry between it and Bezos-backed Blue Origin. SpaceX has launched its Starlink satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket, and Kuiper and colleagues are keen to show that there are cost-effective alternatives.

The fact that none of those launchers put a payload into orbit doesn’t sound like Amazon has had a big break. Ariane 6 may be closest to the start of preparations and will fly this year. The Vulcan Centaur may fall behind, but it relies on Blue Origin BE-4 engines that have yet to be realized. It’s hard to say when the New Glenn will be ready, as Blue Origin hasn’t said anything about its development and testing. Amazon notes that it has contracted Swiss company Beyond Gravity to build satellite dispensers that will eventually ship Kuiper equipment.

However, the next next milestone of the project will not be a full-scale launch, but a small test of prototype satellites to verify the work done on the surface and in simulators. They will be placed on the ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket at the end of 2022.

After that, it is likely that the first few batches of Atlas Vs will be used to launch into orbit, and the production satellites will go through a small process of deployment and activation. The frequency can then increase as other launch providers reach a confirmed flight status and are connected to work.

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