Aug 4, 2020 - Science

Amazon's Project Kuiper moves ahead

A picture of the earth from space

Earth seen from space. Photo: NASA

The FCC has given conditional approval for Amazon to move ahead with its plan to launch thousands of internet-beaming satellites to low-Earth orbit.

The big picture: Multiple companies, including SpaceX, see the potential to make millions of dollars in revenue once their constellations are fully deployed.

What's happening: The FCC approved Amazon's plans for a 3,236-satellite constellation called Project Kuiper with the stipulation that the company needs to launch the first half of its constellation by 2026 and it must be complete by 2029.

  • The commission's approval is also contingent on Amazon submitting an updated plan for how it will reduce its risk of creating orbital debris with its constellation.
  • Amazon announced last week that it will invest $10 billion in Project Kuiper in part to help address high-speed internet access issues that many in the U.S. are facing today.
  • "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 at Amazon, said in a statement.

Where it stands: Amazon is behind SpaceX in deploying hardware, with SpaceX's Starlink constellation already boasting more than 500 satellites in orbit so far, but the Jeff Bezos-backed company's large investment in Kuiper could help them catch up.

Yes, but: There are major risks involved in developing and deploying these constellations.

  • OneWeb — one of the first companies aiming to build a satellite network like this — filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after it wasn't able to raise the funds it needed.
  • It's also not yet clear if the market exists to support more than one of these constellations.
  • Experts have also expressed concern that these small satellites could clutter up low-Earth orbit, increasing the likelihood of creating more space junk that could pose risks to other satellites.
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