TAMPA, Fla. — Facebook said it remains committed to using space-based technology for improving global connectivity, after agreeing to transfer a group of satellite experts to work on Amazon’s low-Earth-orbit megaconstellation Project Kuiper. 

More than a dozen employees including physicists and engineers moved from the social media giant in April to work on the constellation, reported The Information.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed it acquired a small number of employees from Facebook Connectivity, its telecoms infrastructure group, who joined earlier this year to work on Project Kuiper.

“We believe satellite technology will enable the next generation of broadband infrastructure, and as part of our connectivity efforts, we’ve built an incredible team around designing and testing new ways to advance satellite connectivity using optical communications and radio frequency systems and solutions,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“Facebook remains committed to enabling better, broader global connectivity through the development of new programs, technologies and business models, and we’re excited to watch as this team takes their work to the next stage and makes a lasting impact in the field.”

Facebook Connectivity aims to improve internet coverage in areas with little or no services by helping develop technologies, business models and programs that the industry can use to increase availability and affordability. 

It sees strong demand for social media services worldwide, and bringing more people online means more potential users of its platform.

Rather than providing connectivity directly to consumers, it partners with internet service providers, terrestrial and satellite network operators, technology companies, nonprofits and others. 

Satellite partnerships

French fleet operator Eutelsat said May 7 that it is expanding its partnership with Facebook, using more of the social media giant’s Express Wi-Fi platform to provide broadband services via satellite across several regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

The two companies have previously conducted pilots in Congo of Express Wi-Fi infrastructure, which gives service providers access to local communities and entrepreneurs to extend coverage.

Facebook has similar partnerships with U.S. satellite broadband providers Hughes Network Systems and Viasat.

The company doubled down on satellite-based community Wi-Fi projects after disaster struck a payload it agreed to lease on Spacecom’s Amos-6, which was destroyed in September 2016 after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a fueling test.

Amazon has not said when it plans to start launches for Project Kuiper’s 3,236-strong broadband constellation.

The U.S. internet retailing giant must deploy half the LEO network by July 2026, under its license conditions, and the rest by July 2029.

However, the company has committed an initial $10 billion to develop Project Kuiper, saying April 19 that more than 500 people are working on the program.

Its significant capital position is an important advantage for acquiring the teams and resources it needs to meet deployment milestones, and catch up to rivals that include SpaceX’s Starlink, which is estimated to have more than 1,600 satellites in orbit.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...