Amazon’s Project Kuiper will launch its first satellites this spring and expects to be beta testing with customers next year, with plans to put more than 3,000 satellites into Low-Earth Orbit.
Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services, said Project Kuiper’s first two prototype satellites are on a truck headed for Cape Canaveral. He spoke with Via Satellite's Mark Holmes, Senior Editorial Director at Via Satellite, during a keynote address at the SATELLITE 2023 show.
Limp said the Kuiper team will “learn a lot” when the satellites launch in May, and reminded the audience that Project Kuiper’s satellites are bigger than many others in the industry because of their symmetric Ka-band architecture.
Amazon wants to eventually build three to five satellites per day, Limp said. “We want to fill out the constellation as quickly as we can,” he continued. “Production of satellites launches in earnest in 2024 and by mid-2026 over half the constellation will be up.”
He added the team is under pressure from potential customers to move as quickly as possible and argued that Amazon has unique advantages that will make it a strong competitor against LEO incumbents SpaceX and OneWeb.
“We have a huge amount of fiber,” Limp said. “We run a huge amount of traffic for the internet.” He explained that a lot of the workloads Project Kuiper will handle will already be in the AWS cloud. “As workloads move to the cloud, they will be at a data center,” Limp said.
Another advantage for Amazon is its customer service organization, which Limp argued will be an asset for its emerging internet business.
Amazon’s infamous ability to control costs is another asset for Project Kuiper, Limp continued. “We have to take the playbook from consumer electronics and bring it into aerospace, rather than the other way around,” he explained. “You have to get the cost of customer premise equipment dramatically lower; otherwise the business model just doesn’t vet,” he said. “We have invented our way into a place where the customer premise equipment cost can be lower.”
Limp showed the audience images of two antennas, one of which he described as an “enterprise antenna” and one “customer antenna,” which he described as the “lynchpin of the whole system.” The standard customer antenna will measure 11 square inches and deliver data speeds of up to 400 megabits per second. Amazon expects the bill of materials to be under $400.
Limp also shared a prototype of an even smaller Kuiper terminal, noting that it is “about the size of an LP record.” This model measures 7 square inches and expected throughput is up to 100 Mbps.
He also showcased a physical prototype of an enterprise-grade terminal designed for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications. The device measures 19 inches by 30 inches, and will deliver speeds up to 1 gigabit per second.
Amazon’s proprietary Prometheus baseband chip is used throughout the Kuiper architecture, Limp said, and is the key to its business model. Prometheus is an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) that combines the capabilities of a 5G base station, a 5G smartphone modem, and a microwave backhaul antenna, Limp said. The chip has helped Amazon develop equipment that is “a tenth of the cost of what it would be if we had bought it off the shelf,” according to Limp.
Limp predicted that Amazon’s satellite-based internet will serve enterprises, government entities, and unconnected residential customers. He noted that this is not just an issue in developing countries and 100 miles from Washington, D.C., consumers are struggling with copper cable and DSL speeds. He noted that the pandemic has underscored the vital importance of broadband, and said that during the pandemic Amazon became "more convicted about the opportunity” that Project Kuiper represents.
Limp noted that Amazon has made tremendous progress with Kuiper during the last four years, and has built a 1,000 person team. He said Project Kuiper is a way for the company to build a new business and improve society by connecting more people to the internet. “With success and scale comes broad responsibility,” he said.
Amazon will spend roughly $10 billion on Project Kuiper “before we see much cash flow,” Limp predicted. But he said the company is comfortable with the investment. “If we’re successful it can be a very good, large business for Amazon,” he explained. But he conceded that the company has “a lot of work to do to get these satellites into the sky.” VS