Amazon's Kuiper mega constellation: a shower of money will cover the sky to fight Starlink


SpaceX's Starlink constellation has been generating headlines since its first operational launch in 2019. Before that, two prototypes had already taken off whose brilliance alarmed some, ignoring them would have prevented greater unpleasantness. However, after Elon Musk's, Amazon, whose majority shareholder remains Jeff Bezos launches its own. Is there room, physical and/or commercial for Kuiper?

Starlink Pass
The already famous Starlink trains will have a tough competition in the skies with the Kuiper trains. Although the higher altitude of the latter will make them less visible during the night, but more visible at dawn and dusk.

Mega launch contracts: United Launch Alliance

The number of launches of this system is enormous, although it does not rival that of Elon Musk. A total of 3,236 satellites are to be deployed in the first phase. For the first phase, launch agreements have been signed with four different companies, for a total of 92 satellites. Its total value would be several billion dollars.

Most of them have gone to United Launch Alliance (ULA)as well as this initial. Originally, the prototypes that will take off tomorrow were to be in the hands of ABL space and its RS1 rocketbut the failure of its inaugural launch has prevented it from being. Fortunately for them, have not lost the contract but instead they will have the opportunity to launch definitive versions at a later date. A real boost to one of the most promising companies in the current micro-launcher fever.

This flight, as well as the following eight flights in the Kuiper constellation, will take off aboard Atlas V.. This rocket is already at the end of its operational life and although it has a good amount of launches left, its days are numbered. Apart from the Kuiper constellation, a commercial launch of a Viasat satellite, two military ones, and once the Boeing's problematic CST-100 Starliner will leave us forever another legendary family of pitchers. Despite what it may seem, they are not so few, but only the manned capsule of the co-owner of ULA is not ready. If it were not for this one, its retirement would probably come in early 2025.

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The Vulcan Certification-1 (Cert-1) rocket at Cape Canaveral prior to Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) in preparation for the maiden flight. Source: United Launch Alliance

Mega launch contracts: Arianespace

The European company took a number of launches by complete surprise. Its brand new, yet to take off and delayed due to a major test failure Ariane 6 will be in charge of 18 flights. In addition, to the delight of ParisAll but two will be in a heavier-than-usual version that will employ larger solid fuel accelerators. There has been speculation that these may have been developed specifically for the Kuiper mega constellation.

In any case and identically to the Vulcan, this is a rocket that has not yet lifted off, which is a risk in the sense of delays.

New gleen construction
Image of Blue Origin's factory with multiple New Glenn rockets under construction. Source: The Wall Street Journal

Mega launch contracts: Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos's company

There's a funny thing about this Kuiper case, even though Jeff Bezos is the top dog of a space company, and the customer, not all of the pie has stayed at home. In fact, most of it has gone to the competition, even though the Vulcan employs engines sourced from Blue Origin

This is because Amazon is a publicly traded company, which means there are more people at the helm than Bezos, who in fact isn't even CEO anymore. But even so SpaceX has been left out of the largest round of launch contracts in history. They are so abysmally large that overshadow those carried out by the U.S. Department of Defense..

Probably, if the New Glenn rocket Blue Origin would have been available when they were signed these contracts in 2022 would have kept it all. Your price per launch, 67 million as far as is known at the moment, although it could be much less. The only price that is known for sure at the moment is the price paid by NASA for the mission. ESCAPADE to Mars, only 20 million. The Vulcan VC6 to be used by Kuiper is estimated at 122 million and the Ariane 64 will cost 126 million.

Perhaps this explains why this company is the only one that has received a contract with the possibility of adding more launches. At a minimum, there will be 12 missions, with an option for another 15.

Side by Side Customer Terminal Size Comparison Project Kuiper
Comparison of all service terminals to be offered by the Kuiper mega constellation. Source: Amazon

The Kuiper mega constellation itself

And although the comparison is and will be against Starlink, in fact it is more similar to the other already existing, that of One Web. At least in the position in orbit, three layers, one at 590, one at 610 and the last at 630 kilometers altitude. The shape of the Kuiper satellites is not known although their servicing terminals resemble those of Starlink, albeit at a much lower cost. While SpaceX's cost more than $500, it was reported months ago that Amazon's cost "considerably less".

One lurid detail is that Amazon needs all of the aforementioned rockets up and running. If half of the 3236 satellites are not in orbit by 2026 they will lose their license.

Martin Morala Andres