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Amazon buys 9 Atlas launches for Kuiper LEOs

April 20, 2021

By Chris Forrester

Jeff Bezos has contracted nine rocket launches with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch his initial Project Kuiper low Earth orbiting (LEO) broadband-by-satellite craft.

The contract means that for the time being he is not depending on his own Blue Origin rocket system.

“We’re determined to make affordable broadband a reality for customers and communities around the world,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “ULA is a fantastic partner that’s successfully launched dozens of missions for commercial and government customers, and we’re grateful for their support of Kuiper.”

ULA is the joint venture between rocket builders Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Bezos will use ULA’s Atlas V rockets.

Project Kuiper’s initial plan is to populate its mega-constellation with 3,236 satellites and be a direct rival with Elon Musk’s Starlink system. Sources suggest that the first Atlas launch will happen in 2022.

There was no information on how many satellites each Atlas V rocket would launch, nor how much Bezos will pay for the nine Atlas rockets, which are not reusable.

The ULA contract is not going to be a solitary agreement. Amazon says it is open to using multiple launch vehicles and launch partners. This suggests that Bezos could use Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets, or his own Blue Origin vehicles, or rockets from Arianespace or Russia.

Project Kuiper must, according to FCC rules, “bring into use” at least half of its constellation (1600 satellites) by July 2026.

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