Amazon's Project Kuiper gets FCC approval; half of its 3,236 internet satellites to go up by 2026

Project Kuiper is supposed to have gotten its names from the region of the Solar System called Kuiper belt.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given Amazon unanimous approval to launch and operate a constellation of 3,236 internet-providing satellites as part of its 'Project Kuiper' – a codename that is said to be changed once the project begins commercial operations.

According to a blogpost announcing the approval, Project Kuiper is aiming to offer its services to individual households, schools, hospitals, businesses and other organizations operating in places without reliable broadband internet. Other potential customers include people in developing countries, passengers on airplanes and boats, and business customers that want real-time data from their equipment, like oil rigs and ocean buoys, as per a report in Fortune.

"We have heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their job or complete schoolwork because they don’t have reliable internet at home," Dave Limp, Senior Vice President of Amazon said in a press statement. "There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that."

"We are doing an incredible amount of invention to deliver fast, reliable broadband at a price that makes sense for customers," Rajeev Badyal, VP of Technology for Project Kuiper told The Hindu.

Amazon's will launch and operate a constellation of 3,236 satellites as part of its Project Kuiper. Image credit: Airbus Group

Amazon will launch and operate a constellation of 3,236 satellites as part of its Project Kuiper. Image credit: Airbus Group

Along with its approval for the project, the FCC said that Amazon must deploy half of the satellites by 2026, and have the remaining constellation in place by 30 July 2029, as per an Engadget report. 

The constellation is planned as a network of 784 satellites at the lowest altitude (590 kilometres), 1,296 satellites at the next-highest altitude (610 kilometres) and the remaining 1,156 satellites at the highest (630 kilometres) orbit above the Earth. If all goes to plan, the completed Project Kuiper could reach roughly 95 percent of the world's population with its broadband coverage area. Amazon has said that the satellites will first provide internet services to the United States and then gradually expand them globally.

To deal with the ever-growing problems of space junk, Amazon will deorbit satellites within 355 days following the completion of their mission, instead of the 25-year window as per NASA's current standard. It also promises to comply with NASA’s guidelines regarding surviving debris.

What is Project Kuiper?

Project Kuiper is an initiative to build low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation that is capable of providing reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service in regions that are out of reach of traditional fibre or wireless networks. While first rumblings of the project surfaced in September 2018, it could be a decade before the project is completed, and the first internet services are open to users.

Project Kuiper is said to have gotten its name from the region of the Solar System that exists beyond the eight major planets, called the Kuiper belt. "Project Kuiper" could be a play on the number of Kuiper belt objects and the range of their orbits, which, taken (very) broadly, resembles the range of the 3,000+ satellite network. Amazon is investing upwards of $10 billion to build the infrastructure and launch the satellites under Project Kuiper.

Tech Crunch reports that the investment will also include testing satellites for the constellation and building the ground network infrastructure that’s required in order to actually make the connectivity available to consumers.

Other players in the satellite internet race

SpaceX has already begun launching its Starlink satellites that will blanket the earth with nearly 12,000 LEO satellites by 2027. Apart from SpaceX and Amazon, Facebook, Boeing, OneWeb - backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Telesat are all trudging along in the LEO-based internet business.

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