Amazon has contracted up to 83 rocket launches from three different providers to deploy its Project Kuiper satellite constellation for high-speed internet service. The deals with Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance represent the largest commercial acquisition of launch vehicles in history, Amazon said in a statement.
Project Kuiper aims to provide high-speed internet from space, competing with similar offerings from Space X’s Starlink service and UK-based company OneWeb. Amazon’s US Federal Communications Commission license requires Project Kuiper to launch at least half of its planned constellation of 3,236 satellites by July 2026, and at least 90% of its constellation by July 2029. None Of the three rockets that Amazon has selected in its latest deals have yet flown, Bloomberg reports.
Blue Origin, the space firm created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will handle twelve launches for Kuiper, with an option for fifteen additional launches, using its New Glenn rocket. New Glenn has experienced multiple delays, including a recent one that will prevent it from flying this year as previously planned, Blue Origin senior vice president Jarrett Jones said last month at the Satellite 2022 conference.
United Launch Alliance was awarded the bulk of Amazon’s contract, 38 launches, with its new Vulcan Centaur rocket. ULA, based in Centennial, Colorado, is a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. ULA plans a first flight for Vulcan this year, a spokeswoman said. Last year, Amazon contracted nine ULA launches using its aging Atlas V rocket as part of a separate deal for Project Kuiper satellites.
Releases in 2022
According to the retail giant’s latest agreements, Arianespace will provide 18 launches with its Ariane 6 rocket, which is still in development. The Paris-based European space consortium plans the first test flight of Ariane 6 later this year and launch of commercial service starting in 2023. Arianespace and ULA are among the industry’s most established launch providers . Blue Origin is a relatively new entrant working to enter the commercial rocket payload business.
Blue Origin has not said when its New Glenn rocket will begin test flights or commercial service. “We are making great progress at New Glenn and will fly when we are ready,” spokeswoman Sara Blask said in an email.
New Glenn will operate with seven BE-4 liquid oxygen/liquid natural gas engines, the same model ULA has selected to power the first stage of its Vulcan vehicle. Blue Origin has delivered some BE-4 engines to ULA for testing and they have been “performing wonderfully” on the test stands, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said March 22 at the satellite conference.
Late last year, Project Kuiper announced plans to launch two prototype satellites in 2022 from Florida using ABL Space Systems’ new RS1 rocket.