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Washington: Amazon has taken another step towards offering its own broadband service.
It launched its first pair of prototype satellites for its planned Kuiper internet network into space from Florida, before sending thousands more into orbit to beam a home internet service globally and compete with SpaceX’s Starlink.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket emblazoned with the Amazon logo lifted off from Cape Canaveral shortly after 2pm Eastern time (5am AEDT), carrying the two Kuiper test satellites, a long-awaited mission Amazon initially had intended to launch using different rockets.
An Atlas 5 rocket with the Amazon’s Project Kuiper Protoflight spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.Credit: AP
It will be a test of the e-commerce and web services giant’s technology in space before it deploys 3236 more satellites for broadband services in the next few years. It will be competing directly with Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s nearly 5000 Starlink satellites in orbit.
In the days leading up to the launch, Amazon divulged few specifics about the two satellites, which were built at its plant in Redmond, Washington.
The launch live stream hosted by the ULA, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture, ended shortly after the rocket’s lift-off without showing the deployment of the satellites. Amazon later said the two satellites were deployed and its mission operations centre had made contact with them.
The company has vowed to invest $US10 billion ($15.6 billion) into its Kuiper project, which was announced in 2019, the year SpaceX began deploying its first operational Starlink spacecraft. SpaceX is now the world’s largest satellite operator.
A simulation showing the position (not appearance) of Starlink satellites in the night sky. Credit: Michael Vlasov/howmanystarlinkswillfillyoursky.com
The US Federal Communications Commission is requiring Amazon to deploy half its planned satellite constellation by 2026.
The market for broadband internet service from low-Earth orbiting satellites is believed worth up to tens of billions of dollars in the next decade.
Amazon’s other rivals include Canada’s Telesat, which has not yet launched satellites, and French satellite firm Eutelsat’s OneWeb, which mainly offers its internet service to governments and businesses.
Like SpaceX, Amazon aims to target individual consumers and enterprise customers with Kuiper, and supplying consumer terminals at a company cost of $US400 each – though it has not yet announced prices. SpaceX’s consumer Starlink terminals are priced at $US599 each.
To deploy the rest of the Kuiper network, Amazon last year announced a bulk launch deal for 83 launches – the largest commercial rocket procurement ever – from various rocket companies, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, ULA and Europe’s Arianespace.
Amazon and Bezos, its founder, are facing a shareholder lawsuit over that launch deal that accuses the company of failing to do proper due diligence and failing to consider potentially cheaper rockets from its rival SpaceX. SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket has been central to Starlink’s swift deployment.
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