WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on July 30 approved Amazon’s request to operate a constellation of roughly 3,200 internet satellites in low Earth orbit.
The FCC said Amazon has until July 30, 2026 to launch at least 50% of its satellites in order to maintain its authorization, and until July 30, 2029 to orbit the full constellation.
Amazon has not outlined a launch plan for Kuiper yet, and told the FCC its constellation is still being designed. The company said it anticipates launching Kuiper satellites in five waves and starting service once the first, comprised of 578 satellites, is in orbit.
Amazon’s Ka-band system is “designed to increase the availability of high-speed broadband service to consumers, government, and businesses,” the FCC said.
As a condition of its approval, Amazon is required to submit an updated debris mitigation plan to the FCC once its spacecraft design is finalized. The company plans to operate Kuiper in three layers, one at 590 kilometers, another at 610 kilometers and a third at 630 kilometers.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated earlier this month he would support approving Kuiper, saying in a July 10 tweet that he shared a proposal with FCC staff to advance the constellation’s authorization.
“Satellite constellations like this aim to provide high-speed broadband service to consumers in the U.S. and around the world,” Pai wrote.
Amazon joins SpaceX, Telesat, OneWeb and potentially Viasat in competing to provide high-speed broadband from low Earth orbit using large numbers of satellites.
Amazon said in December it is setting up a research and development headquarters for Kuiper in Redmond, Washington, complete with laboratories, prototype manufacturing facilities, and office and design space. The company also plans to open a Redmond office for its Web Services division in 2021 with capacity for more than 600 employees.
Amazon Web Services has a ground station business focused on connecting satellites in low Earth orbit, and in June created a dedicated “Aerospace and Satellite Solutions” division to sell cloud services to the space industry.
Suborbital and orbital launch company Blue Origin is also owned by Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, though Blue Origin has said it will have to compete to win launch contracts for Kuiper.