Amazon has confirmed it plans to launch thousands of low Earth orbit satellites in order to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband service around the globe.
Details on Amazon’s Project Kuiper emerged in filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and in an article published today by GeekWire.
Amazon confirmed Project Kuiper in a statement to GeekWire.
When contacted by Ars, Amazon provided us the same statement but said it would be “premature” to answer any of our specific questions about speeds, prices, and when service will be available.
“Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” Amazon said in its statement. “This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband Internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision.”
As GeekWire wrote, the filingswith the ITU “lay out a plan to put 3,236 satellites in low-Earth orbit—including 784 satellites at an altitude of 367 miles (590 kilometers), 1,296 satellites at a height of 379 miles (610 kilometers), and 1,156 satellites in 391-mile (630-kilometer) orbits.”
The filings were made last month by the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Amazon’s Kuiper Systems LLC. This is one of the initial steps for Amazon, as it still needs to seek approval from the FCC and regulators in other countries.
According to GeekWire, Amazon confirmed that the satellites “would provide data coverage for spots on Earth ranging from 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south,” an area that covers about 95 percent of the world’s population.
Unlike current satellite broadband services that suffer from extremely high latency, low Earth orbit satellites are expected to deliver service with latencies as low as 25ms, similar to cable or fiber systems.
Years-long process ahead
It would be hard to predict an availability date for Amazon’s broadband service, given how early it is in the regulatory process.
SpaceX filed for FCC approval of its satellite broadband constellation in November 2016. SpaceX has made significant progress with regulators, getting FCC approval to deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites. Two months ago, SpaceX asked the FCC for approval of up to 1 million Earth stations that would be used by end users to access the network. SpaceX is hoping to offer Internet service starting sometime in 2020 but hasn’t confirmed a more specific availability date.
OneWeb, another company planning a big satellite network, launched its first six low Earth orbit satellites in February as test units and says it will provide worldwide broadband access by 2021. SpaceX last year launched two test satellites.
The FCC has also approved applications from Space Norway and Telesat to offer broadband in the US from low Earth orbit satellites. Facebook is another company planning to launch broadband satellites.
Like other satellite operators, Amazon will have to file detailed plans to convince regulators that its satellites won’t interfere with other satellite services and that it can prevent space debris and injuries to humans when they eventually return to Earth.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is also the founder of private spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos’s space company could theoretically launch Kuiper satellites into space, but Amazon said it will “look at all options” when the time comes, according to GeekWire.