Amazon is set to take on SpaceX in a battle for space internet dominance
Amazon asked the FCC to increase its constellation to 7,774 satellites, which would allow it to cover regions further north and south, including Alaska, as Starlink does.
There are riches to be had: SpaceX currently charges $110 per month to access Starlink, with an upfront cost of $599 for an antenna to connect to the satellites. According to a letter to shareholders last year, Amazon is spending “more than $10 billion” developing Kuiper, with more than 1,000 employees working on the project. Andy Jassy, the current CEO of Amazon, said Kuiper has a chance to become a “fourth pillar” for the company, alongside its retail market, Amazon Prime, and its cloud computing service. widely used, Amazon Web Services.
“Amazon’s business model relies on people with internet connectivity,” says Shagun Sachdeva, an industry expert at space investment firm Kosmic Apple in France. “It makes a lot of sense for them to have this constellation to provide connectivity.”
Amazon isn’t yet disclosing pricing for its service, but has previously said its goal is to “bridge the digital divide” by bringing fast, affordable broadband to “underserved communities,” an ambition Starlink has also professed. But it remains to be seen whether the costs will be low enough for this to be feasible. “Costs will come down, but how much is really the question,” says Sachdeva. On March 14, the company revealed that it was producing its own antennas at a cost of $400 each, although a retail price has yet to be revealed.
Amazon said it can deliver speeds of up to one gigabit per second and one terabit of bandwidth over satellite. These are similar to Starlink’s numbers, and the two services seem pretty similar overall. The main difference is that Starlink is up and running, and has been for years, while Amazon doesn’t plan to start offering Kuiper as a service until the second half of 2024, giving SpaceX a huge head start in attracting users. and secure contracts.
There also remain concerns about space junk and its impact on ground-based astronomy. Before 2019, there were only around 3,000 active satellites in space. SpaceX and Amazon alone could boost that number to 20,000 by the end of this decade. Tracking a large number of moving objects in orbit – and making sure they don’t collide with each other – is a headache.
“I’m not convinced that we can safely keep (even) one of these systems in orbit,” says Hugh Lewis, a space debris expert at the University of Southampton in the UK, who has tracked thousands of close calls between Starlink, OneWeb, and other satellites. “They continually roll the dice. At some point, despite their best efforts, I think there will be a collision.
Amazon’s spokesperson said the company “designed our system and operational parameters with space security in mind.” When the satellites complete their mission, the spokesperson added, they will be removed from orbit within a year using onboard boosters, and in the event of a satellite failure, atmospheric drag “will help to ensure that all remaining satellites will de-orbit naturally”.
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