Amazon is ready to start building its global satellite network
Amazon today asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to launch experimental satellites into low Earth orbit.
The system is under development in Redmond and is called Project Kuiper.
The satellites would be the first in its proposed network of more than 3,000 satellites that would deliver high-speed Internet service to people at an altitude of 366 miles above the earth’s surface.
Amazon says the system could bring internet speeds of over 400 megabytes per second to rural areas. If that’s true, it’s faster than Elon Musk’s competing Space X system, which is much further away with over 1,000 satellites already in orbit.
Space X’s satellite program is also based in Redmond.
Both companies’ systems depend on cloud computing operations in the field. Space X contracts with Microsoft to do some of this work.
To receive the signal from Amazon, customers would need a special antenna developed by Amazon.
Amazon’s first two satellites would be launched separately from Florida on a pair of rockets built by a California company called ABL Space Systems. According to ABL’s website, an average rocket launch costs around $ 12 million.
After being released, Amazon’s satellites would tumble a bit and then stabilize using ion thrusters powered by noble gases.
During the roughly six minutes it takes for satellites to travel from horizon to horizon, Amazon would run internet speed tests to see how the system works. The satellites would pass over us several times a day.
Amazon would test the signal using a few of its consumer antennas. They will be positioned in rural Texas a few hours drive northwest of Austin.
With more and more companies launching satellites, there is a low risk of collision with other objects. Amazon’s satellites have thrusters to help them avoid debris and other satellites.
The average projected lifespan of each satellite is two years. After their useful life, they will lower until they run out of fuel, then gradually sink into the atmosphere where they will shatter on re-entry.
According to the FCC app, Amazon says most pieces of the satellite will burn, some falling harmlessly to the ground. There is a component of the satellite, called the “reaction wheel rotor,” that could kill someone if it lands on it. Amazon says the risk of this happening is 1 in 18,000 for each satellite.
Background calculations suggest that as these systems grow and age, the risk of loss could approach 1 in 2 (the probability of a draw) every few years as each generation of thousands of Space X satellites and Amazon is returning to the atmosphere.