Thursday 18 July 2019

Amazon enters the space race with satellite push

Amazon’s bid could see it rival SpaceX, pictured. Photo: Bloomberg
Amazon’s bid could see it rival SpaceX, pictured. Photo: Bloomberg

Todd Shields

Amazon has asked for US permission to launch 3,236 communications satellites, joining a new space race to offer internet services from low orbits and challenge the fleet planned by SpaceX, which is led by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

In a July 4 filing, Amazon told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) its Kuiper satellites will deliver broadband to tens of millions of consumers and businesses that lack adequate access to the internet.

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The FCC has already approved nearly 13,000 low-Earth-orbit satellites. These include 11,943 for Musk's Space Exploration Technologies, which launched an initial batch of 60 spacecraft in May.

At low-Earth-orbit - altitudes of about 180-2,000km - satellites need to race around the globe to stay aloft, completing orbits in as little as 90 minutes. As one moves toward the horizon, it will hand off signal duties to the next satellite coming by. In its FCC application, Amazon said its satellites would operate at altitudes of about 590-630km.

Chief executive Jeff Bezos last month said the Kuiper project will cost "multiple billions of dollars". The project is separate from his space launch vehicle maker, Blue Origin.

"This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet," Amazon said in April, when the company's satellite programme first became public.

In its FCC filing, Amazon said it will help serve US communities "by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas". The Kuiper system will help mobile network operators to expand wireless services, Amazon said.


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