Kuiper shocks with rival SpaceX bookings
December 4, 2023
Amazon’s Project Kuiper mega-constellation has surprisingly ordered three rocket launches from rival SpaceX. It seems the SpaceX launches are needed to ensure that Kuiper meets its ITU obligations to orbit 50 per cent of its 3,236 fleet by July-2026.
Coincidentally, the order comes at the same time as a lawsuit from an institutional investor is due to start today [December 4th] and where the Amazon board of directors is alleged to have ignored SpaceX when it placed 77 launch contracts with Arianespace’s Ariane 6, the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan (ULA) and the Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin rocket launch business and its New Glenn vehicle.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon committed spending $1.7 billion on these three suppliers despite SpaceX being less expensive.
Project Kuiper is busy building its satellites and ground equipment, and has recently said that launches will happen in the “first half of 2024” and a beta service started by the end of 2024.
However, the new SpaceX order reflects the multiple challenges faced by the three initial launch contractors. The contract calls for the three SpaceX rockets to be flown starting in mid-2025.
Each of the previous contractors has problems.
Arianespace, with 18 launches reserved, will not launch its new Ariane 6 rocket much before the winter of 2024/2025. The first test flight will take place in June/July 2024 and commercial launches are not expected much before 2025 and then at a rate of just 4-5 per year.
The ULA – itself a joint-venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin – depends on corrections to its Vulcan Centaur upper stage, and the supply of engines from Blue Origin. ULA has launched Kuiper’s two test satellites but few expect launch capacity for Kuiper craft to materialise much before mid-to-late 2024. ULA has 8 remaining launches to make for Kuiper.
The Blue Origin/New Glenn rocket is well behind schedule. Blue Origin Jarrett Jones, SVP/New Glenn at Blue Origin, said recently that the company is working towards a first launch of that rocket in 2024 and carrying Kuiper satellites. However, Blue Origin has already promised that the first launches of New Glenn are allocated to NASA.