Amazon Wins FCC Permission for Launch of 3,236 Satellites, $10-Billion Competitor to SpaceX

The FCC will allow Amazon to lift its Project Kuiper to space — in direct competition with SpaceX.
Brad Bergan
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Amazon plans to launch 3,236 internet-carrying satellites as part of Project Kuiper after achieving FCC permission, in a project set to contest the fleet of SpaceX's Starlink satellites, according to a document published on the FCC's website.


Amazon wins FCC approval for Project Kuiper

Amazon — which Jeff Bezos founded in 1995 — finalized a major victory this week when it was granted regulatory approval to move forward with Kuiper, a fleet of 3,236 internet-carrying satellites, reports Business Insider.

Once complete, Kuiper will be in direct competition with Starlink, a similar but larger fleet from Elon Musk's SpaceX of 12,000 to 42,000 satellites — several times more spacecraft than ever launched by humankind before.

The FCC's five commissioners unanimously voted to allow Amazon to launch the new Kuiper fleet into space to communicate with antennas based on Earth — meeting the legal requirements to lift the new SpaceX competitor to space.

"We conclude that grant of Kuiper's application would advance the public interest by authorizing a system designed to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses," wrote the FCC in its official order, released to the public on July 30.

Amazon aims to invest 'more than $10 billion' in satellites

A further announcement from Amazon released on Thursday stated the company's intentions to invest "more than $10 billion" to provide "reliable, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world."

"A project of this scale requires significant effort and resources, and, due to the nature of [low-Earth orbit] constellations, it is not the kind of initiative that can start small. You have to commit," said Amazon.

The stated amount is nearly the same as what Gwynne Shotwell — SpaceX COO — estimated in May 2018 as the amount needed to compete with Starlink.

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Elon Musk's SpaceX, Starlink, new competition

When Elon Musk described Starlink to reporters in May 2019, he said SpaceX aimed to claim only 1 to 3% of a roughly trillion-dollar annual telecommunications business. He added that his project could bring in between $30 billion to $50 billion per year — roughly 10 times the cost of launching rockets. This means the company could be worth up to $100 billion, according to analysts, reports Business Insider.

Amazon should see the same access and capture of the telecommunications market, which has led to tense regulatory battles with SpaceX and other companies — even leading to Musk calling Bezos a copycat.

While Amazon's expanding and lucrative digital entertainment divisions — which bring affordable high-speed internet to both remote and populated areas, in turn growing the company's customer base and profit margins. But Amazon had to seek FCC approval first, just like SpaceX.

FCC allocates wireless spectrum use, LEO, VLEO service

The FCC grants permission for public and private entities to use sections of the wireless spectrum, assigning permission to use frequencies for specific functions — for Starlink, OneWeb, Kuiper, and other planned providers who plan to provide web data to and from space to blanket the U.S. and other areas of the world in low-lag, high-speed broadband.

Amazon first asked the FCC for permission in 2019, which launched the company into stiff competition with similar providers. With newly-awarded approval, the company will send satellites into orbit at altitudes ranging from 367 miles (590 km) to 291 miles (630 km) — also called low-Earth orbit (LEO), or even lower — in very low-Earth orbit (VLEO).

While these altitudes are more than 50 times lower than typical geostationary internet satellites, it will further enable to forthcoming satellites to move data at fiber-optic-like spaces.

As companies like Amazon, SpaceX, and others move forward with their respective ventures into space-based internet service and conveyance, we're at the beginning of a new age of space travel — one where space exploration is joined at the hip with major industries, hopefully for the better.

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