Amazon’s Project Kuiper is a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network with an ambitious mission: to bridge the digital divide by providing fast, affordable broadband to communities that lack access to traditional communication technologies. This initiative is Amazon’s answer to SpaceX’s successful Starlink satellite broadband network, which has already been deployed and serves customers across the globe. Both companies aim to provide global connectivity through LEO satellite networks, but the key to Amazon’s competitive edge lies in the development of small, low-cost antennas, or customer terminals, that can communicate with the satellites passing overhead.
Traditionally, customer terminals have been too large, complex, and expensive for many customers, limiting the ability of LEO constellations to bridge the digital divide effectively. To serve tens of millions of customers, Project Kuiper set an ambitious goal: to design a customer terminal that costs less than $500 to build. The team achieved this milestone in 2020 with a new antenna architecture that was smaller and lighter than traditional designs. Since then, they have continued to innovate, making their terminal designs even smaller, more affordable, and more capable than those used by SpaceX’s Starlink.
At a recent satellite industry conference in Washington, D.C., Amazon unveiled three engineering models that will anchor its customer terminal portfolio, rivaling those offered by Starlink:
An affordable high-performance design for residential and small business customers: This standard customer terminal measures less than 11 inches square and 1 inch thick, weighs under five pounds, and delivers speeds up to 400 Mbps. Amazon expects to produce these terminals for less than $400 each, providing a cost-effective alternative to Starlink’s terminals.
An ultra-compact design for broader connectivity: A 7-inch square design, this terminal weighs just 1 pound and offers speeds up to 100 Mbps. Its portability and affordability aim to serve even more customers, including residential customers seeking a lower-cost option, government, and enterprise customers pursuing applications like ground mobility and IoT.
A high-bandwidth design for demanding needs: This model, designed for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications, measures 19 inches by 30 inches and delivers speeds up to 1 Gbps.
All three terminal designs are powered by an Amazon-designed custom baseband chip called “Prometheus.” This chip combines the processing power of a 5G modem chip, the capability of a cellular base station, and the ability of a microwave backhaul antenna, all in a single custom chip. Prometheus is also used in Project Kuiper’s satellites and ground gateway antennas, allowing the system to process up to 1 Tbps of traffic on board each satellite.
Amazon has already begun scaling its infrastructure in anticipation of building tens of millions of customer terminals. Project Kuiper is preparing to deploy its first two prototype satellites on the first flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket. This mission will provide real-world data on system performance and allow engineers to test the end-to-end communications network.
In parallel, the team is scaling operations in preparation for offering commercial service. A dedicated satellite production facility is under development in Kirkland, Washington, with mass satellite production expected to begin by the end of 2023. Project Kuiper plans to launch the first production satellites in the first half of 2024 and give its earliest customers access to the service later that year.
With its combination of innovative customer terminals, a global network of ground stations, and a resilient communications infrastructure powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Project Kuiper aims to challenge SpaceX’s Starlink as a leader in global satellite broadband service. By developing a range of affordable and powerful customer terminals, Amazon’s Project Kuiper is poised to offer reliable, high-speed internet access to unserved and underserved communities around the world.
Project Kuiper has secured up to 92 heavy-lift launches from Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance, providing enough capacity to deploy the majority of its satellite constellation. These agreements comprise the largest commercial procurement of launch capacity in history, supporting thousands of suppliers and highly skilled jobs across the U.S. and Europe.
Both Project Kuiper and SpaceX’s Starlink share the common goal of closing the digital divide by delivering fast, affordable broadband to consumers, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations operating in areas without reliable connectivity. As these satellite broadband networks continue to expand and compete, the global community can expect increased access to high-quality internet services.
Project Kuiper’s commitment to safety and sustainability is also paramount. Amazon is dedicated to operating safely and responsibly in space, designing its entire constellation to minimize the risk of orbital debris. The company is also working with astronomers to explore ways to reduce the visibility of its satellites and avoid interference with scientific research.
As Project Kuiper moves forward with its ambitious plans, the competition with SpaceX’s Starlink is expected to drive further innovation in the satellite broadband industry, ultimately benefiting customers worldwide. With both companies working tirelessly to connect the unconnected, the future of global broadband access is brighter than ever.