- Amazon unveiled a trio of satellite antennas as the company prepares to take on SpaceX’s Starlink with its own Project Kuiper internet network.
- The tech giant will offer a standard, ultra-compact and professional version of its antennas, with speeds ranging from around 100 megabits per second to as much as 1 gigabit per second.
- Amazon said the “standard version” is expected to cost less than $400 each to produce.
The company’s “standard” customer terminal, the middle of the trio of Project Kuiper satellite antennas measures less than 11 inches square and weighs under five pounds.
WASHINGTON – Amazon unveiled a trio of satellite antennas on Tuesday, as the company prepares to take on SpaceX’s Starlink with its own Project Kuiper internet network.
The tech giant said the “standard version” of the satellite dish, also known as a customer terminal, is expected to cost Amazon less than $400 each to produce.
“Every technology and business decision we’ve made has focused on what will provide the best experience for different customers around the world, and our range of customer terminals reflects those choices,” said Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. in a statement.
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit, to provide high-speed internet to anywhere in the world. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission approved Amazon’s system, which the company has said it will “invest more than $10 billion” to build.
The “ultra-compact” version of Project Kuiper
The “standard” design measures under 11 inches square and 1 inch thick and weighs under 5 pounds. Amazon says the device will deliver speeds to customers of “up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps).”
An “ultra-compact” model, which Amazon says is the smallest and most affordable, is a 7-inch-square design that weighs about 1 pound and will offer speeds up to 100 Mbps. In addition to private customers, Amazon plans to offer the antenna to government and corporate customers for services such as “ground mobility and the internet of things.”
Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices and Services Dave Limp declined to say how much it costs to make each ultra-compact antenna, but told CNBC that it is “significantly cheaper” to manufacture than the standard model.
Its largest “professional” model, at 19 inches by 30 inches, represents a high-bandwidth version for more demanding customers. Amazon says this antenna will be able to “deliver speeds up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps)” via space. Badyal told CNBC that there are a variety of business and government applications for the pro series, such as “oil platforms in the middle of the ocean” or “vessels that want a lot of bandwidth,” such as military vessels.
The company’s “Pro” customer terminal, the largest of the trio of Project Kuiper satellite antennas at 19 inches by 30 inches.
Amazon has not yet said what it expects the monthly service cost for Project Kuiper customers to be.
When showing early customers his antennas, Limp said he saw them get “excited” about the range.
“They’re surprised at the price points, surprised at the performance for the size, and (the antennas) are solid state so there’s no motors,” Limp told CNBC.
Amazon said it expects to begin mass-producing commercial satellites by the end of this year. Limp told CNBC that when Amazon’s manufacturing facility is completed, the company expects to produce up to “three to five satellites per day at scale.”
“We will increase to that volume,” Limp said.
The company’s first two prototype satellites are scheduled to launch on the debut mission of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, set for May.
Badyal told CNBC that Amazon expects to make “minor adjustments” from the prototypes to the commercial version, as the satellites are “almost identical” but represent the first time much of the company’s hardware has flown in space.
The company’s prototype Project Kuiper sends satellites for launch.
While Amazon has yet to show off its satellites, or reveal many details, Limp noted that the Kuiper spacecraft are “larger mass” than the first generation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, with Amazon aiming for “Goldilocks sizing.” And Amazon expects the performance of its Kuiper satellites to “significantly outperform” those of Starlink, with expected performance for processing up to 1 terabit per second (Tbps) of traffic. The satellites are expected to have a lifespan of about seven years before they need to be replaced.
Launches of production satellites are scheduled to begin in the first half of 2024, with initial service planned for when the company has a few hundred satellites in orbit, Limp noted.
Last year, Amazon announced the largest corporate rocket deal in the industry’s history, booking 77 launches — deals that included options for more when needed — from a variety of companies to deploy the satellites quickly enough to meet regulatory requirements.
Limp said these launches mean Amazon has “enough to get the vast majority of the constellation” into space.
“I don’t think you ever fully think about launch capacity, but we feel pretty good about what we have in the order books,” Limp added. “If new vehicles come online, which are more competitive, we will look at that.”
Notably, Amazon has not purchased launches from SpaceX, America’s most active rocket launcher. Instead, Amazon has hired a variety of competitors, buying rides largely on rockets that have yet to debut.
“I have no religious problem not buying capacity from SpaceX, they are a very reliable rocket, but the Falcon 9 was not the best rocket for us financially,” Limp explained.
Asked whether Amazon would consider owning a rocket system to support its launches, Limp said, “I would never say never to a question like that” but that the company is looking for acquisitions in areas “where you can have something that’s differentiated and that’s something where it’s not well served.”
Limp noted that’s a different scenario than something like “Prime Air,” the company’s cargo airline, because it was a situation where the company’s forecast for e-commerce growth was higher than what shipping providers like FedEx or UPS or USPS thought.
“We were just using a lot of excess capacity … only when it stopped being well served did we look at it,” Limp said. “There was a shift in that it was well-served for our needs. Right now, I don’t see it from a rocket perspective. There are a lot of launches out there.”
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