On Tuesday, Amazon announced the largest commercial launch in history, revealing deals on up to 83 missions to deploy thousands of Internet satellites on United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur, Ariane 6 Arianespace and Blue Origin New Glenn vehicles.
The agreements strengthen commercial business approaches for all three missiles, more than doubling the backlog for Vulcan Centaur, Ariane 6 and New Glenn missiles before any of them ever flew.
The Kuiper network Amazon, similar in concept to the Starlink constellation from SpaceX and the OneWeb satellite fleet, will provide a low-latency Ka-band broadband Internet connection for customers between 56 degrees north and 56 degrees south latitude.
The multibillion-dollar deals with ULA, Arianespace and Blue Origin are the largest commercial purchases of launch vehicles in history. Financial details are not disclosed, and officials are not announcing when the launches will begin.
“The Kuiper project will provide fast and affordable broadband access to tens of millions of customers in unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon. “We still have a lot of work to do, but the team continues to reach step by step in all aspects of our satellite system.
“These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and faith in the Kuiper project, and we are proud to work with such an impressive team of partners to fulfill our mission,” Limp said in a statement.
Half of the 3,236 Kuiper network satellites must be launched by mid-2026 for Amazon to support network authorization from the Federal Communications Commission. None of the satellites have been launched so far, but Amazon plans to launch the first two prototypes of the Kuiper spacecraft on the launch of the new ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket by the end of this year.
Last April, Amazon announced a contract with ULA to launch some of its early Kuiper satellites in nine Atlas 5 missile missions.
The new agreement, announced on Tuesday, covers 38 ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket launches. The ULA said it plans to upgrade and expand its launch infrastructure at the Space Forces station at Cape Canaveral to support the high flight speeds needed to fulfill the contract with Amazon.
The upgrades include a second specialized mobile launch platform for Kuiper missions and a modification of the ULA space flight processing and operations center at Cape Canaveral to serve as a second vertical integration center for stacking and integrated missiles before launch.
“This agreement marks the beginning of a new exciting era for ULA and for the entire U.S. launch industry,” said Tori Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. “With a total of 47 launches between our Atlas and Vulcan vehicles, we are proud to be launching most of this important constellation.
“It will support hundreds of jobs, especially in places like Alabama, Colorado and Florida, and Amazon’s investment in startup infrastructure and upgrading capabilities will benefit both commercial and government customers,” Bruno said.
According to Bruno, Kuiper’s missions will use the heaviest version of the Vulcan Centaur with six solid-propellant rocket boosters.
Amazon has also made 18 flights from Arianespace using the new European Ariane 6 rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana.
“This is the largest contract we have ever signed, a remarkable moment in the history of Arianespace,” said Stephen Israel, CEO of Arianespace, in a statement. which aims to connect tens of millions of people to the Internet.
Israel said the contract with Amazon would build on Europe’s innovation spirit, industrial strength and years of experience, and is a big win for the European launcher industry. The fact that Amazon has chosen the Ariane 6 to do this work is a matter of great pride and great confidence for us in our new launch vehicle. ”
All 18 Arianespace flights for Amazon will use the Ariane 64 rocket configuration with four solid-propellant rocket boosters grouped around a major cryogenic stage. Sixteen of the missions will use improved versions of the Ariane 64 with more powerful solid fuel accelerators.
Blue Origin, created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezas, won the initial tranche of 12 missions for the Kuiper project using the New Glenn heavy rocket. Amazon has provided options for up to 15 additional New Glenn missions.
“We are honored to support Amazon’s ambitious mission of providing reliable and affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved communities around the world with New Glenn and our BE-4 engines,” said Jarrett Jones, senior vice president of New Glenn at Blue Origin. . “The seven-meter New Glenn fairing offers unprecedented weight and volume capabilities, providing maximum flexibility when launching the Kuiper project.”
Blue Origin will also build BE-4 engines that power the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket. The Vulcan booster uses two BE-4 engines supplemented by different numbers of solid-propellant missiles, while the New Glenn will run on seven BE-4 engines without solid-propellant rocket boosters.
The Kuiper program operates as a separate entity from Blue Origin, which means that the Bezas space company had to bid for Kuiper launches as part of a competitive procurement process.
New Glenn missions will launch from Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral.
Officials from each of the Kuiper launch providers said their missiles could carry dozens of Amazon Internet satellites in one flight. The Ariane 64 rocket will launch 35 to 40 satellites per mission, Vulcan Centaur can accommodate 45 Kuiper satellites per launch, and New Glenn – 61 satellites per launch.
These figures, combined with Kuiper’s previous deal to launch nine ULA Atlas 5 rockets, mean that Amazon has provided enough power to deploy all 3,236 satellites in its satellite network, and then some.
None of the missiles on which Amazon contracted have yet flown. ULA and Arianespace say their teams are on track to launch the first Vulcan Centaur and Ariane 6 test flights by the end of this year. The first launch of the New Origin New Glenn rocket has been postponed since 2020, and the head of the company last month ruled out launching New Glenn’s first demonstration flight this year.
SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets, the most flying commercial space launchers in recent years, did not win any of the launch agreements announced by Amazon on Wednesday. Bezos and Musk are two of the richest people in the world, and their space companies are competitors in the commercial space industry.
The Starlink online network, developed by SpaceX, is also a competitor to the Kuiper project.
Last month, SpaceX and OneWeb – also rivals – announced an agreement to launch OneWeb satellites on SpaceX Falcon 9. OneWeb planned to launch the rest of its first-generation satellite fleet on Russian Union rockets under a contract with Arianespace, but commercial and the Union’s international missions were suspended after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
So far, OneWeb has launched 428 of the planned group of 648 first-generation satellites on 13 Union rockets. SpaceX has launched 2,335 Starlink satellites on its reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Amazon is starting its group late, but the company is developing its own spacecraft on its own.
“Amazon now has more than 1,000 people working on the Kuiper project, and the team continues to make progress toward a full, production-ready deployment – completing a high-performance satellite design, producing a compact and affordable terminal for customers and deploying a secure, reliable communications network.” which connects satellites with customers and infrastructure on earth, ”Amazon said.
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