During his flight, “I felt really energized and energized that we just have to keep pushing and keep going.”
The deal includes two veteran rocket builders — United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and European company Arianespace — as well as Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, which is still working to develop a rocket capable of reaching orbit.
Bezos remains the executive chairman of Amazon.
The contracts include a total of up to 83 launches, which Amazon calls one of the largest commercial launch deals ever signed. The launches will take place over approximately five years. All three rockets Amazon plans to use for these missions are not operational yet, but are expected to enter service later this year or in 2023. Financial details were not disclosed.
In an interview with CNBC On Tuesday, Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said only that the contracts will cost Amazon “billions.”
He added that the company’s goal is to launch a few test satellites into orbit within the next year or so. And, if all goes according to plan, Amazon will deploy at least half of the Project Kuiper constellation, or more than 1,600 satellites, by 2026. But the company can start commercial services with a few hundred satellites, Limp said. She declined to discuss how much the service could cost consumers.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone in every aspect of our satellite system,” Limp said in a statement.
Notably absent from the supplier list is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Even if SpaceX worked dominate commercial launch industry with its reusable rockets, Amazon’s space 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 up more than 145,000 customers worldwide, SpaceX said in January.
It is not uncommon, however, for a space company to launch a satellite on a competitor’s rocket. SpaceX has notably signed an agreement to launch satellites UK based OneWeb, which is building another constellation of Internet satellites in low Earth orbit, the area of orbit extending approximately 1,200 miles from the Earth’s surface. (OneWeb entered into this agreement after its previous launch contract, which involved the use of Russian rockets, it was canceled during the Ukrainian war.)
Bezos and Musk are thought to have a particularly strained relationship, however, with Musk often going public with his barbs about Bezos on Chirping and their companies engaged in fierce competition for high profile contracts with NASA and the US military.
Amazon’s Kuiper project got involved quiet development for years. Federal regulators have given approval for 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 operating orbital rockets but plans to use its upcoming Ariane 6 rocket for Project Kuiper launches, signed an 18-mission deal.
ULA had the lion’s share of the deal, with plans for 38 launches. ULA will use its Vulcan Centaur rocket, which was scheduled to fly in early 2022 but has been delayed by development issues with the engines it will use: the BE-4 engine, to be built by Bezos’ Blue Origin. The Vulcan Centaur could fly for the first time within this year.
Blue Origin will also use the BE-4 for its New Glenn rocket, which is now planned to enter service in 2023. Amazon has signed a deal for 12 launches on that vehicle when it’s ready to fly.