Kuiper Systems LLC
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustrySatellite Internet access
Space
Telecommunications
Defense industry[1]
FoundedApril 2019; 4 years ago (2019-04)
FounderJeff Bezos
HeadquartersRedmond, Washington, U.S.
Number of locations
2
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Rajeev Badyal (president)
ProductsSatellite based broadband internet access
Number of employees
1400[2] (July 2023)
ParentAmazon
WebsiteOfficial website

Kuiper Systems LLC, also known as Project Kuiper, is a subsidiary of Amazon that was established in 2019 to deploy a large satellite internet constellation to provide low-latency broadband internet connectivity.[3][4] The name Kuiper was a company codename for the project inspired by the outer Solar System's Kuiper belt.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted Amazon approval to deploy its planned constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit.[5] Deployment is planned in five phases, and internet service will begin once the first 578 satellites are launched. Under its granted FCC license, Amazon is required to launch and operate 50% of its satellites no later than July 30, 2026, and must launch and operate the remaining satellites no later than July 30, 2029.[6]

Amazon announced signed launch contracts with United Launch Alliance, ArianeGroup and Blue Origin for a total of 92 rocket launches over the next decade in order to build out the entire constellation.[7] The overall contract value for these launches is in excess of US$10 billion.

Two initial prototype satellites “KuiperSat-1” and “KuiperSat-2” launched on October 6, 2023 on a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.[8][9]

History

In April 2019, Amazon announced that they would fund and deploy a large broadband satellite internet constellation called Project Kuiper.[3][4] It is expected to take up to a decade to fully deploy all 3,236 satellites planned for the full constellation in order to provide internet to "tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet".[3] Amazon has not announced if they intend to sell broadband service directly to consumers, but they will "offer broadband service through partnerships with other companies".[10] The president of Kuiper Systems, Rajeev Badyal, was a former vice president of SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet constellation before being fired by Elon Musk in 2018. Badyal started Kuiper along with other ex-SpaceX employees soon after.[10][11]

In December 2019, information became public that Amazon was asking the FCC to waive requirements (eg. to have applied by 2016) that SpaceX and OneWeb had to follow in order to get their large satellite internet constellations licensed.[12]

In July 2020, Amazon announced that it would be investing more than US$10 billion in Project Kuiper,[13] post receiving an authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a Project Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites, to provide broadband internet access across the globe. A condition included in the FCC's authorization was a non-interference clause that required the satellites to not interfere with previously authorized satellite ventures.[14]

In December 2020, Amazon unveiled a high-level overview of the low-cost flat-panel antenna that it plans to use for the Project Kuiper satellite constellation. It is a Ka-band phased-array antenna that is much smaller than traditional designs for antennas that operate at 17–30 GHz. The antenna will be ~30 cm (12 in) in width and is expected to support up to 400 megabits per second of data bandwidth at less than 20% of the cost of traditional state-of-the-art flat-panel antennas.[15] Amazon also announced that they intend to be "launch agnostic" and would not plan to exclusively use launch capacity from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin company, but rather were open to launch capability offers from all providers.[15]

In April 2021, Amazon announced that it had contracted with ULA for nine launches of Kuiper satellites on Atlas V launch vehicles from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, and noted that it will "continue to explore all options" for launching the remainder of the satellites.[16][17]

In April 2022, Amazon announced a massive set of launch contracts with three launch providers for a total of 83 launches over the next decade.[18] The agreements foresee the launch of a full constellation at buildout of 3236 satellites, and include 18 launches of the European Ariane 6, 12 launches of Blue Origin's New Glenn (with options on 15 additional flights), and 38 launches on the Vulcan launch vehicle from United Launch Alliance. [7] As of September 2023 none of these three new medium- or heavy-lift launch vehicles have made their initial flight. Amazon previously announced that it had purchased the final nine Atlas V rocket launches from United Launch Alliance before that vehicle, which is powered by Russian engines, is retired.[7]

In August 2023, a lawsuit was filed by an Amazon shareholder, Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, against the company claiming the Amazon board of directors acted in bad faith when procuring the approximately $10 billion in launch contracts for the constellation, which amounted to Amazon's second largest capital expenditure to date.[19][20] Contracts to Blue Origin, owned by Bezos, amounted to 45% of the total expenditure. The suit suggests that animosity between Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk may have precluded Amazon from contracting SpaceX's Falcon 9 vehicle, which is flight proven and potentially more cost effective.[19]

After launch of its prototype satellites, it was reported that the prototypes were operating nominally.[21]

In December 2023, it was announced that Amazon had secured three Kuiper launches aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9.[22]

The Vulcan Centaur rocket launched for the first time on January 8, 2024,[23] clearing the way for the future ordered launches of Kuiper Systems satellites.

Technology

Satellite constellation

Project Kuiper System is planned to consist of 3,236 satellites operating in 98 orbital planes in three orbital shells, one each at 590 km (370 mi), 610 km (380 mi), and 630 km (390 mi) orbital altitude.[24] Phase 1 of deployment will be 578 satellites at 630 km altitude and an orbital inclination of 51.9 degrees. A total of five phases of constellation development are planned.[17]

Kuiper is planned to work in concert with Amazon's previously announced large network of 12 satellite ground station facilities (the "AWS Ground Station unit") announced in November 2018.[25] In addition to connecting to ground stations to connect to the ground-based internet, satellites will interconnect via optical infrared laser connections. Amazon refers to this technology as OISL (optical inter-satellite link). These lasers are capable of maintaining 100 Gbps over distances up to 2,600 km among two satellites moving at 25,000 km/h. Current in-space tests have demonstrated this speed up to a distance of 1,000km. [26]

Also, Kuiper satellites are likely to be compatible with and interconnect via optical links to Space Development Agency satellites.[27]

User terminals

Multiple customer terminal designs are planned for different market needs. Project Kuiper’s standard customer terminal is expected to measure less than 11 inches square and 1 inch thick, and weigh less than five pounds without its mounting bracket. The device is planned to deliver speeds up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps). Amazon expects to produce these terminals for less than $400 each.[28]

An ultra-compact design 7-inch square customer terminal weighing one pound will offer speeds up to 100 Mbps. This design will connect residential customers for lower-costs, as well as government and enterprise customers pursuing applications like ground mobility and internet of things.[28]

A high-bandwidth design 19 inches by 30 inches terminal will deliver speeds up to 1 gigabit per second for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications.[28]

Facilities

Organizational headquarters for Kuiper Systems are located at an Amazon R&D facility in Redmond, Washington since 2020.[29] Development of satellite prototypes and production methods were initially performed at the Redmond site. Manufacturing and satellite production is located at 172,000-square-foot facility in nearby Kirkland, Washington.[30] The factory in Kirkland is expected to manufacture five satellites per day when operational.[31]

A satellite processing and integration facility is planned in Florida at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to integrate spacecraft for launch aboard Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance rockets from the spaceport. The 31,000-square-meter facility is not expected to be operational before early 2025, and Amazon will use a third-party payload processing facility until its own is fully commissioned.[2]

Launches

Test satellites

The first two prototype satellites “KuiperSat-1”[failed verification] and “KuiperSat-2”[failed verification] were launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on October 06, 2023.[32]

Previously, Amazon had planned its initial ride to space on launch vehicles that were also still in development, including ABL Space Systems on their RS1 rocket that was expected by late 2022[7][33] as well as on ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket by mid-2023.[34] Both rockets in development experienced their own testing failures that delayed their launch readiness. By August 2023 Amazon selected the flight proven Atlas V rocket to reach orbit in a more timely fashion.

References

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