WASHINGTON — Although still weeks out from launching its first pair of prototype satellites, Amazon unveiled user terminals March 14 for a planned 3,200-satellite broadband constellation it expects will start providing beta services from low Earth orbit next year.
The company showcased three engineering antenna models for its Project Kuiper network at the Satellite 2023 conference here that are sized for different applications.
- Its standard terminal for residential and small business customers uses a 28-centimeter square design (picture an LP record cover, only thicker) and weighs less than 2.3 kilograms without its mounting bracket. This terminal would be capable of speeds up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps) and cost less than $400 to produce.
- An ultra-compact square terminal about the size of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader, weighing just under half a kilogram, would be more affordable for customers, according to Amazon, and would offer speeds up to 100 Mbps.
- On the higher end, Amazon plans to release a device 48 centimeters by 76 centimeters across to provide speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) for enterprise and government customers.
Amazon did not say how much these other two terminals would cost to produce. The company has not announced pricing for the Kuiper service or user hardware.
The terminals would be powered by a baseband chip Amazon designed called Prometheus, which the company said would enable them to handle traffic from thousands of customers simultaneously per satellite.
By using the chip in its proposed satellites and gateway antennas, Amazon senior vice president of devices and services David Limp said each Project Kuiper spacecraft would be able to process up to 1 terabit per second of traffic.
“Prometheus is an amazing chip,” Limp said, giving Amazon the processing power of “a typical kind of 5G base station, we have the power of the modem that’s in your 5G phone, and we have the power of the most powerful backhaul system … and that’s all combined in this one little ASIC,” or application specific integrated circuit.
Limp said designing the chips in-house enabled Amazon to acquire them at one-tenth what they would cost on the market.
Amazon expects to launch the first two prototypes for the constellation in “early May” on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket.
However, Limp said Amazon already has enough data to start building operational satellites and expects to have made “multiple” spacecraft by the end of this year for launches starting in the first half of 2024.
The company expects to start providing beta services to “large customers” later in 2024 in certain regions, Limp added.
Ultimately, he said Amazon plans to produce 3-5 satellites daily as it races to meet a regulatory deadline to have half its proposed constellation of 3,236 satellites in LEO by mid-2026.
Amazon has secured up to 92 launches with ULA, Arianespace, and Blue Origin to deploy the satellites. The blockbuster launch deal was announced last April during the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.