Amazon signs multibillion-dollar Project Kuiper launch contracts
COLORADO SPRINGS — In the largest commercial launch deal ever, Amazon is purchasing up to 83 launches from Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance to deploy most of its 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper broadband megaconstellation, contracts worth several billion dollars.
Amazon announced April 5 the agreements to launch an unspecified number of satellites on Ariane 6, New Glenn and Vulcan Centaur rockets over five years. The launches are in addition to nine Atlas 5 launches it purchased from ULA a year ago. Amazon did not disclose financial terms but said it is spending billions of dollars on these contracts as part of the constellation’s $10 billion overall cost.
“Securing launch capacity from multiple providers has been a key part of our strategy from day one,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said in a statement. “This approach reduces risk associated with launch vehicle stand-downs and supports competitive long-term pricing for Amazon.”
Amazon is buying 38 Vulcan launches from ULA. The agreement includes additional investments in launch infrastructure to support a higher flight rate, such as a dedicated launch platform for Vulcan launches of Kuiper satellites. ULA will make its own investments to support processing two launch vehicles in parallel.
“With a total of 47 launches between our Atlas and Vulcan vehicles, we are proud to launch the majority of this important constellation,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of ULA, said in a company statement. “Amazon’s investments in launch infrastructure and capability upgrades will benefit both commercial and government customers.”
The Arianespace deal includes 18 Ariane 6 launches, a contract that Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, described in a statement as the largest contract in his company’s history. Blue Origin is selling 12 New Glenn launches with an option for 15 more.
Amazon declined to provide details about the launch agreements, including the number of satellites each vehicle will carry. Beyond Gravity, formerly known as RUAG Space, will build satellite dispensers for the Kuiper satellites at a new facility in Sweden.
The launches will take place over five years, but Amazon declined to state when the launches would begin. None of the three vehicles are currently in service, although both Ariane 6 and Vulcan are scheduled to make their first launches this year. Blue Origin has not announced a revised date for the inaugural New Glenn launch but noted at the Satellite 2022 conference in March that it would not take place this year.
Amazon did not disclose which vehicles it considered beyond the three it awarded contracts for. Notably absent is SpaceX, which in addition to its Falcon and Future Starship vehicles is developing its Starlink broadband constellation that will compete with Kuiper. “Amazon has talked to every major launch provider and they will continue to explore all options for future launch services,” a spokesperson representing Amazon told SpaceNews.
Amazon needs many launches quickly to meet requirements of its Federal Communications Commission license awarded in July 2020. That license requires Amazon to have half its satellites in orbit by July 2026 and the complete constellation in orbit three years later. The spokesperson representing Amazon told SpaceNews that the contracts keep the company “on track to meet deadlines set forth in the FCC license.”
Amazon has yet to launch any Kuiper satellites. Two prototype satellites are scheduled to launch later this year on ABL Space Systems’ RS1 small launch vehicle, which also has yet to make its first flight.
“These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president for Amazon Devices and Services, in a statement.