Amazon plans to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit to provide internet to “unserved and underserved communities around the world”, Reuters reported. The so-called Project Kuiper initiative first came to light last September, after TJI Research spotted two job postings, later deleted, by Amazon Web Services (AWS). They called for a software engineer and a product manager “to help innovate and disrupt the launch, satellite and space world with new AWS products, services and features”. In March, GeekWire spotted that Kuiper Systems LLC had recently made three sets of filings with the International Telecommunication Union, the organisation in charge of coordinating satellite orbits. Amazon confirmed that Kuiper Systems was one of its projects, The Verge reported.
The internet space race
With this, Amazon joins a string of companies that plan to use a network of satellites to offer broadband around the world. Unlike traditional satellite internet, these plans involve the use of satellites in low Earth orbit, which can be operated cheaply and with lower latencies, The Verge report said.
Last February Virginia-based startup OneWeb — whose backers include SoftBank, Coca-Cola, Airbus and Virgin Group — launched its first batch of six satellites from French Guiana, CNN reported. The company plans to launch batches of satellites until hundreds of them are in orbit. By 2021, OneWeb plans to offer the first global ‘5G-ready’ internet coverage.
SpaceX has plans to launch as many as 12,000 satellites as part of its Starlink constellation. In November 2018, SpaceX received US regulatory approval to deploy 7,518 broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 satellites that were approved earlier, The Verge reported. Prototype test-flight satellites were launched on February 22, 2018, according to TechCrunch.
Wired reported last July that Facebook was planning to launch its own satellite, called Athena, in early 2019. Facebook has been working on this project since July 2016, according to IEEE spectrum. Prior to that, Facebook had plans to build a solar-powered drone – Aquila – to provide internet connectivity in remote parts of the world. But last year it announced it was abandoning the project.
Samsung is also sending internet satellites into orbit, Universe Today reported. The company plans to have 4,600 satellites in low Earth orbit by 2028. Once operational, this constellation will provide a 200-GB-a-month internet service for up to five billion users, the report said.