Amazon just booked 83 launches onboard rockets from Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance to transport a majority of its Project Kuiper satellite constellation to low-Earth orbit within the next five years.
The recent collaboration includes nearly every major player from the private space sector except for SpaceX, which has already launched more than 2,000 of its own satellites as part of its Starlink program. Project Kuiper is Amazon’s initiative to launch 3,236 satellites, forming a large broadband internet constellation that services all parts of the globe.
“Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said in a statement.
Prior to this recent deal, the company had already purchased nine Atlas 5 launches from ULA about a year ago. Although Amazon did not announce the total cost of the contracts, it is spending billions from its $10 trillion overall budget for Project Kuiper, a company spokesman told the Verge.
Amazon’s contract with ULA includes 38 launches on its heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Vulcan Centaur. Meanwhile, the company will launch satellites onboard 18 Ariane 6 rockets over a period of three years from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s aerospace company, will provide 12 launches using New Glenn with an option of adding up to 15 additional launches. However, Amazon did not specify when the launches would begin, nor how many of the satellites each rocket would carry.
Things may also take a little while longer considering that all three vehicles are yet to log a first flight. Ariane 6 and Vulcan are scheduled for their first launches later this year, while the debut of New Glenn is still up in the air.
Meanwhile, Project Kuiper’s main adversary is already well on its way to building an internet megaconstellation in low-Earth orbit. In March, Starlink launched another batch of satellites onboard a Falcon 9 rocket, bringing its total satellites currently in orbit to 2,335, but there’s currently about 2,000 of those satellites in operational orbit, according to figures provided by Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. SpaceX is aiming to send a whopping total of 42,000 satellites to low-Earth orbit.
Both Starlink and Project Kuiper have ambitious goals to bring high-speed internet to remote areas across the world by beaming internet data through radio signals traveling from space.
As these companies compete to build large arrays in the sky, astronomers are increasingly worried that their ongoing plans will impede observations of the cosmos. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) recently established the Center for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference that aims to minimize the impact of large satellite constellations on optical and radio astronomy.
“The new constellations are already affecting optical and radio astronomy,” a recent statement by the Royal Astronomical Society read. “By design the satellites provide coverage to the whole Earth, so unlike light pollution and radio interference on the ground, it is impossible to escape their effects through relocation to remote sites.”