Jeff Bezos’s Project Kuiper, a satellite-based internet service to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink, requires the deployment of more than 3,000 satellites in Earth’s orbit. For several years, the project has struggled to find rockets that can launch those satellites. Bezos has turned to rival Elon Musk for help.
Last week, Amazon (AMZN) bought three missions from Musk’s SpaceX to launch Kuiper satellites using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets starting in 2025. Amazon has already contracted three launch partners—United Launch Alliance (ULA), Europe’s Arianespace and Bezos’s Blue Origin—for over 90 Kuiper missions.
Bezos, apparently looking to build a vertically integrated space venture where Blue Origin’s rockets launch Amazon’s Kuiper satellites (similar to how SpaceX’s rockets launch Starlink satellites), has put people in key positions connecting the two businesses. In September, Amazon’s board, chaired by Bezos, appointed Dave Limp, the former head of Project Kuiper, as the new CEO of Blue Origin. However, Blue Origin’s orbital rocket, the New Glenn, is slow to take shape. Neither ULA nor Arianespace have built the new rockets for Kuiper. The only working rocket Amazon has access to now is the ULA’s Atlas V, which launched a pair of demo Kuiper satellites to orbit in October.
Project Kuiper was first announced in 2019, around the same time SpaceX launched its first batch of operational Starlink satellites. Four years later, Starlink has about 4,500 working satellites in orbit and more than two million paying users, while Kuiper has launched only one demo mission.
Amazon’s surprising contract with SpaceX came months after a Cleveland pension fund sued Amazon’s board, claiming they “acted in bad faith” in contracting the bulk of Kuiper launches to unbuilt rockets without considering SpaceX, which is currently the largest launch provider in the U.S. The suit suggested Bezos’s unfavorable opinion of Musk was one of the reasons why Amazon didn’t consider SpaceX. Amazon has denied the claim.
At the New York Times Dealbook Summit last week, Musk told Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin that he admires Bezos’s space ambition and welcomes his competition. “I actually agree with a lot of Jeff’s motivations,” Musk said. “Let me put it this way, if there was a button I could press that would delete Blue Origin, I wouldn’t press it. So I think it’s good that he’s spending money on making rockets too. I’d suggest perhaps he spend more time on it, but it’s up to him.”
Amazon recently said it plans to launch Kuiper satellites in batches in the first half of 2024 and begin service in some areas later that year.