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Amazon’s Kuiper facing “constraints”

October 31, 2022

Imagine, you are one of the richest individuals on the planet and you have a broadband-by-satellite scheme (Project Kuiper) that could be highly competitive. But – and there are quite a few ‘buts’ – you don’t have the rockets to get them into space…

Indeed, Amazon’s executive chairman Jeff Bezos has poured millions into Blue Origin rockets but they are also delayed. Worse, you have contracted with other rocket manufacturers to supply launch vehicles, but they are not available in sufficient numbers in what is a global shortage of rocket capacity.

Even worse, Bezos is on the tightest of tight timetables: Project Kuiper is obliged to launch about 1,600 of its planned 3,200 satellites by July 2026. This is to comply with FCC rules which require an operator to place half of a planned constellation within 6 years of a licence being granted – and nine years to complete a system.

For example, Elon Musk’s Starlink system started launching its satellites in November 2019. In other words, it has taken almost a full 3 years of hard work – and money – to get 3,558 satellites into orbit.

Kuiper is planning to build up to 4 satellites per day from a new 172,000 sq ft factory that’s additional to the existing 219,000 sq ft facility in Washington State.

Dave Limp, Amazon’s SVP/devices and services speaking at a Washington Post Live event on October 27th admitted that the launch industry was a “constraint” for Kuiper.

One option, said Limp, was to buy launches from SpaceX. Kuiper already has 83 rocket launches booked with either the United Launch Alliance (ULA), Arianespace’s Ariane-6 or Bezos’ own Blue Origin rockets.

But each potential launcher has problems. The ULA has already slipped the launch of its new Vulcan Centaur rocket to “early 2023” and that launch will carry two test-satellites for Kuiper. Numerous comments suggest that production of the Vulcan rocket is behind schedule.

Limp added that there were other launch providers out there and he stated that these new options would come into place and that Amazon was open to contracting with anyone. “We are open to talking to SpaceX. You’d be crazy not to, given their track record,” noted Limp.

He stressed he remained confident that the FCC obligations would be met, and moreover that there was plenty of business around the planet to satisfy more than one operator.

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