This week, the American e-commerce giant has taken another step forward in its conquest of space. Amazon has asked the American authorities for authorization to launch 3236 Internet satellites as part of its Kuiper project announced last April. The Kuiper project plans to launch a fleet of approximately 3236 low-level satellites to provide high-speed Internet access worldwide. “Project Kuiper is an initiative to launch a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit that will provide low latency broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” Amazon announced about four months ago.
Does Amazon introduce competition to SpaceX? This seems quite obvious, because the project of the world’s e-commerce boss has the same characteristics as Elon Musk’s SpaceX project. In other words, Amazon’s Kuiper project describes the same objectives as SpaceX’s Starlink project. In either case, both companies have demonstrated their ambition to provide high-speed Internet in all regions of the world, using satellites launched at low altitude, in orbit around the earth. While Amazon has just requested the approval of the American authorities to start the launch phase of its satellites, SpaceX has already started deploying its Internet satellites since last May.
On the night of June 23, 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX launched the first fleet of 60 Starink satellites into low Earth orbit. The 60 satellites, each weighing 227 kilograms, were launched and placed in low Earth orbit overnight on Thursday, May 23 to Friday, May 24, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. The 60 satellites represent the first fleet of a constellation of about 12,000 satellites for the Starlink project, the project by which Elon Musk aims to provide high-speed Internet from space to all regions of the world. For the occasion, Musk and SpaceX explained that significantly, the 60 satellites did not represent much at the moment.
According to them, it will be necessary to wait at least six more launches (about 400 satellites) before offering a minimum Internet service. They also announced that it would probably take at least 12 more launches, carrying similar payloads, for the company to ensure consistent Internet coverage in most countries around the world. A few days ago, the company announced that it was in perfect communication with all its satellites except for 3 of the 60 that were launched. Musk had nevertheless stated that this project would allow him to raise the necessary funds for his vision of space, in particular that of colonizing the planet Mars.
That said, Elon Musk and his team will now face significant competition in this new market if the FCC approves Amazon’s application. The company has applied to the United States for approval to launch 3236 communications satellites, joining a new space race to offer low orbit high-speed Internet service and challenge Elon Musk’s SpaceX fleet. In a statement this week, Amazon announced to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its satellites would provide broadband to tens of millions of consumers and businesses who do not have adequate Internet access.
The FCC already gave SpaceX the green light last April to launch these satellites. The FCC has already approved nearly 13,000 satellites in low Earth orbit. These include SpaceX’s 11,943. It should be noted that in a low Earth orbit, with altitudes ranging from 180 to 2000 kilometres, satellites must travel the globe to stay at altitude and perform orbits in just 90 minutes. As we move towards the horizon, it transfers the signals to the next passing satellite. Many satellites are needed if the objective is continuous and extensive coverage.
For its part, Amazon has stated that its satellites will operate at altitudes of approximately 590 to 630 kilometres. According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, this project will cost the company billions. “It is a long-term project that aims to serve tens of millions of people who do not have basic broadband Internet access,” Amazon said in an April release when the Kuiper project was made public to the International Telecommunication Union. Specifically, the company also indicated in its report to the FCC that it would help to serve American communities "by providing fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.