The deal includes two veteran rocket builders: United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and the European company Arianespace, as well as Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. which is still working to develop a rocket capable of reaching orbit.
Bezos is still the CEO of Amazon.
The contracts include a total of up to 83 releases, which Amazon calls one of the largest commercial release deals ever signed. Releases will take place over about five years. The three rockets that Amazon plans to use for these missions are not yet operational, but are expected to enter service later this year or 2023. Financial details were not disclosed.
Notably absent from the vendor list is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Although SpaceX has worked to dominate the commercial launch industry with its reusable rockets, Amazon’s space-based Internet business, called Project Kuiper, is expected to compete directly with SpaceX’s satellite Internet business, Starlink. Starlink is far ahead of Project Kuiper and other competitors, as the company has already deployed more than 2,000 satellites and signed more than 145,000 customers worldwide, SpaceX said in January.
However, it is not uncommon for a space company to launch a satellite on a competitor’s rocket. In particular, SpaceX signed an agreement to launch satellites for UK-based OneWeb, which is building another constellation of Internet satellites in low-Earth orbit, the area of orbit that extends roughly 1,200 miles from the surface of the Earth. Land. (OneWeb made that deal after its previous launch contract, involving the use of Russian rockets, was canceled amid the Ukraine war.)
However, Bezos and Musk are believed to have a particularly strained relationship, with Musk often going public with his criticism of Bezos on Twitter and his companies engaging in a tense competition for high-profile contracts with NASA and the US military. .
Amazon’s Project Kuiper has been in quiet development for years. Federal regulators approved the company to launch its satellites in 2020 and few concrete updates have been shared since then.
Under the deal announced Tuesday, Arianespace, which has orbital rockets in operation but plans to use its upcoming Ariane 6 rocket for Project Kuiper launches, signed a deal for 18 missions.
ULA got the lion’s share of the deal, with plans for 38 releases. ULA will use its Vulcan Centaur rocket, which was scheduled to fly in early 2022 but was delayed due to development issues with the engines it will use: the BE-4 engine, which will be built by Bezos’ Blue Origin. The Vulcan Centaur could fly for the first time later this year.
Blue Origin will also use the BE-4 for its New Glenn rocket, which is now scheduled to enter service in 2023. Amazon has signed a deal for 12 launches on that vehicle when it’s ready to fly.
It is unclear how far along Project Kuiper is in the development process. Such constellations involve sophisticated satellite technologies as well as complex ground terminals that can track Internet-broadcasting satellites as they move around the planet.
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone in all aspects of our satellite system,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.