Along with SpaceX, Amazon was one of the companies that requested permission to put a constellation of satellites into orbit to offer broadband Internet services around the world. Offering broadband Internet connectivity from orbit is an ideal method of bringing Internet connectivity to parts of the US that do not currently have broadband services. However, in many parts of the US, broadband speeds are extremely slow and there is only one carrier, meaning there is no competition that generally leads to higher prices and slower speeds. Satellite broadband also adds more competition for underserved areas.
While SpaceX is arguably the best-known company that puts satellites into orbit, Amazon is also working on a constellation of satellites. Recently, Amazon began seeking approval from the FCC. to launch more 4500 satellites in its satellite Internet project, known as Project Kuiper. Previously, Amazon intended to build 3,236 satellites, and with the request for an additional 4,500 satellites, the company wants to launch a total of 7,774 satellites.
In addition to requesting permission to add 4,500 satellites to the constellation, Amazon also requested that the FCC allow it to launch and operate two prototype satellites that will be placed in orbit by the end of 2022. Amazon stated in the document that its satellites would work. homes, hospitals, businesses, government agencies and other organizations globally, particularly in areas where reliable broadband is lacking. Many of us in the US take reliable broadband for granted, but many rural communities and those in developing countries lack access to broadband.
Even in areas where broadband is available, satellite internet from Amazon and SpaceX will add competition, which is expected to result in lower prices and better service. Amazon noted in its presentation that while broadband availability is improving, only 51 percent of the world’s population is online. In developing countries, the percentage of the population that is online is even worse, at 41 percent.
Both Amazon and SpaceX will have additional competition in the future, and the FCC recently gave Boeing approval to launch 147 satellites to provide Internet access from orbit. SpaceX currently has the largest satellite fleet deployed, with more than 1,700 satellites currently circling Earth. In the next few decades, SpaceX plans to launch 42,000 satellites.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also founded Blue Origin, a space launch service trying to compete with SpaceX. Presumably, at some point in the future, Project Kuiper satellites will be launched using Blue Origin rockets. However, in April this year, it was confirmed that Amazon would use United Launch Alliance rockets to put its satellites into orbit.
Amazon has also petitioned the FCC to slow down the deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Amazon has asked the FCC to treat Starlink as a “newly designated system” that would subject satellites to a broader range of regulatory processes. That request came after SpaceX submitted a modification to its original deployment plans in 2020. The modification request that triggered Amazon was a request to move 2,800 of the satellites in their initial launch phase to an orbit lower than the that the FCC originally authorized. SpaceX said at the time that Amazon was trying to shut down its operations because it was years away from launching its first satellites.
Amazon first sought FCC approval for its Project Kuiper constellation in 2019. In December 2020, Amazon reached a milestone in its project with the announcement that it had completed initial antenna development for the low-cost terminal that it would allow subscribers to connect to satellites as they pass overhead. Amazon said that the moment its prototype was able to support speeds of up to 400 Mbps.