WASHINGTON: Amazon.com plans to launch its first Internet satellites to space in the first half of 2024 and offer initial commercial tests shortly after, the company said Tuesday (Mar 14), as it prepares to vie with Elon Musk's SpaceX and others to provide broadband Internet globally.
Amazon's satellite Internet unit, Project Kuiper, will begin mass-producing the satellites later this year, the company said. Those will be the first of over 3,000 satellites the technology giant plans to launch in low-Earth orbit in the next few years.
"We'll definitely be beta testing with commercial customers in 2024," Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon devices, said at a conference in Washington.
The 2024 deployment target would keep Amazon on track to fulfil a regulatory mandate to launch half its entire Kuiper network of 3,236 satellites by 2026. Limp, who oversees Amazon's consumer devices powerhouse, said the company plans to make "three to five" satellites a day to reach that goal.
With plans to pump more than US$10 billion into the Kuiper network, Amazon sees its experience producing millions of devices from its consumer electronics powerhouse as an edge over rival SpaceX, the Musk-owned space company whose Starlink network already has roughly 4,000 satellites in space.
Amazon plans to launch a pair of prototype satellites early this year aboard a new rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The 2024 launch, carrying the initial production satellites, is expected to be the first of many more in a swift deployment campaign using rockets Amazon procured in 2021 and 2022.
The company on Tuesday also revealed a slate of three different terminals, or antennas, that will connect customers with its Kuiper satellites in orbit.
The "standard customer terminal," 11-inch square antennas, will cost the company less than $400 each to produce and provide Internet speeds of 400 megabits per second for customers, Amazon said in a statement.
SpaceX's consumer Starlink terminals, priced at US$599 each, as well as other bespoke terminals for governments and businesses, are being used by "more than a million customers to date," Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX's head of Starlink enterprise sales, said Monday.
A smaller, square-shaped mobile antenna, measuring 7 inches wide and weighing one pound, will be Amazon's "most affordable" terminal for the network, though the company did not disclose the price.
Amazon's largest, "most capable" antenna model, "designed for enterprise, government and telecommunications applications," will be 19 by 30 inches in size and put out Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second - fast enough to download a high-definition feature-length movie in roughly 30 seconds.