Amazon may have to turn to SpaceX for help launching its Starlink rival service

"You'd be crazy not to, given their track record."
Chris Young
Jeff Bezos (left) and a render SpaceX's Starship deploying Starlink (right).
Jeff Bezos (left) and a render SpaceX's Starship deploying Starlink (right).

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Amazon is working toward the launch of two prototype satellites for its SpaceX Starlink-rivaling internet service, Project Kuiper.

The delivery giant plans to launch these first two satellites at some point next year, and earlier this year, it penned what it calls "the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history."

Amazon signed that agreement, totaling 83 Kuiper launches, with United Launch Alliance (ULA), European firm Arianespace, and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

There's one important caveat, though. Those launches partially rely on rockets that have yet to reach orbit, including Blue Origin's New Glenn and the Ariane 6. In a webcast with The Washington Post, Amazon senior VP of devices and services Dave Limp touched on this concern, and he refused to rule out asking the company's rival SpaceX for help with its launches.

Amazon is playing catch-up with Starlink

Amazon's two prototype satellites are set to launch aboard the new Vulcan Centaur rocket early next year, as per an October press statement. The Project Kuiper mega-constellation is eventually expected to total 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit, bringing high-speed internet anywhere in the world, much like SpaceX's Starlink. SpaceX currently has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit, and it aims to eventually send roughly 30,000 more up to the skies.

That's a lot of catching up to do, and Amazon may even need to turn to its rival for help, Limp conceded during his recent webcast interview with The Washington Post. "You'd be crazy not to, given their track record," Limp said after he was asked whether Amazon might turn to SpaceX to launch its Kuiper satellites.

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Amazon's Project Kuiper is very far behind Starlink, with the e-commerce giant having just announced the opening of a new satellite development facility in Washington state. It's hard not to draw comparisons between the current situation and the rivalry between Blue Origin and SpaceX — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin was founded two years before SpaceX, but it has yet to build a rocket capable of reaching orbit.

Elon Musk accused Jeff Bezos of being a "copycat"

It will, of course, be very interesting to see if Amazon does reach out to SpaceX for its launch services and how SpaceX reacts. Blue Origin was famously tied up in a protracted legal dispute with SpaceX and NASA over the latter's choice of SpaceX's Starship as a lunar lander for Artemis III over Blue Origin's option.

Bezos also criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year, claiming that SpaceX was held to a different, more favorable set of rules than other companies.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to that accusation on Twitter by writing, "it does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation."

Musk has taken several swipes at Bezos over the years. When Amazon's Project Kuiper was first announced in 2019, Musk tweeted a response to the announcement, saying, "Jeff Bezos copycat." Musk, who is known for his controversial tweets and who is now the owner of Twitter, has also suggested zapping Bezos "with our space lasers" and even accused the Amazon founder of impotence on one occasion.

Editor's note 01/11/22: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Amazon will launch its prototype satellites on an ABL Space RS1 rocket. While this was originally the plan, Amazon recently announced it will now launch the satellites atop the new Vulcan Centaur. This has been corrected.

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