ULA to launch Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet satellites from Florida

Kuiper Project will compete against SpaceX’s Starlink internet

A rendering of ULA's Altas V launching Project Kuiper satellites. (Image credit: Amazon)
A rendering of ULA's Altas V launching Project Kuiper satellites. (Image credit: Amazon) (WKMG 2021)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The first rounds of satellites from Amazon’s global internet constellation known as Kuiper Project will launch with United Launch Alliance from Florida, the companies announced Monday.

ULA has been selected to launch nine rounds of the Kuiper satellites on Altas V rockets from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Launch Complex 41.

“Project Kuiper is an ambitious project with the potential to connect tens of millions of people around the planet,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno said in a statement. “The scope and scale of the initiative will also provide an enormous boost to U.S. leadership in space, helping create jobs and providing steady, reliable demand for the launch services industry. We’re honored to have Amazon turn to ULA and Atlas V to support its deployment plans.”

Project Kuiper will eventually be comprised of 3,236 satellites in low-Earth orbit providing global internet. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said the satellites will provide affordable broadband around the world.

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Amazon and ULA officials did not say how many satellites would lift off during each of the nine contracted launches. However, Amazon said the Atlas V rocket has the right level of capacity for large-scale deployment.

“We’ve designed our satellites and dispenser system to accommodate multiple launch vehicles – this gives us the flexibility to use many different rockets and providers to launch our satellite system,” VP of technology for Project Kuiper Rajeev Badyal said in a statement. “Atlas V is a capable, reliable rocket, and we’re proud to be working with ULA to support these important first launches.”

Amazon is still evaluating other launch service providers for the remainder of the satellites.

According to Amazon, there are more than 500 people dedicated to Project Kuiper, which is funded by a $10 billion investment from Amazon.

When the broadband is operational, customers will acquire the signal using antennas developed by Project Kuiper.

In December, the company announced it had been testing the user terminal with the antenna. The circular antenna is about 30 centimeters wide.

Amazon’s launch contract announcement comes as SpaceX continues to launch its own internet constellation on a nearly biweekly basis from Florida with now more than 1,200 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit. SpaceX has more than 10,000 customers worldwide using internet services provided by the satellites.

However, Amazon is only one of several competitors looking to provide global internet this way. Satellite manufacturer OneWeb is also actively launching its own internet constellation.

There are several key differences between Project Kuiper and its competitors.

Amazon’s internet constellation will fly at lower orbits at 630 kilometers and below. The constellation will also top out at more than 3,200 satellites; not tens of thousands. Both SpaceX’s and OneWeb’s plans require more than 30,000 satellites.

The prime real estate in low-Earth orbit is a boon for businesses looking to jump into the WiFi service but astronomers have voiced concerns about interference with observations due to the satellites circling the globe.

A spokesperson for Project Kuiper said Amazon is working to reduce the constellation’s impact on radio and optical astronomy.

SpaceX has also made physical changes to Starlink satellites after working with the astronomy community to address their concerns.

Hopeful customers for Project Kuiper may have some time to wait though. Amazon officials declined to release the launch timeline but the company’s Federal Communications Commission license requires that at least 50% of the satellites be deployed by July 2026.

The FCC license approved in July authorizes Project Kuiper to deliver broadband internet in the U.S. via satellite constellation.


About the Author:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Emilee hosts the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Space Curious. Previously, she was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a web producer at the Naples Daily News.