Amazon delays Project Kuiper satellite launches

Amazon is talking up a new facility that will help it speed up the manufacture and ultimately launch of LEO satellites, but it has also quietly tweaked its timelines, meaning Project Kuiper will get off the ground a little later than planned.

Mary Lennighan

June 28, 2024

3 Min Read

The Internet giant formally opened a new facility in Kirkland, Washington, this week, which will serve as the manufacturing hub for the satellites that will form Project Kuiper's LEO constellation. Once it is fully up and running, the factory will be able to churn out as many as five satellites per day, which will be crucial for Amazon's bid to catch up with its rivals in the LEO market.

But the first satellite launches will not come until the fourth quarter of this year, with the first customers getting connected in 2025, Amazon said. Previously it was aiming to get satellites into orbit in the first half of this year and to begin testing with selected customers before year-end.

It's not a massive delay. But even weeks count as the LEO market hots up. Major rivals Starlink, owned by Elon Musk's SpaceX, and OneWeb are already serving customers; the former has more than 6,000 satellites in orbit, and launched 23 new Starlink satellites as recently as Thursday.

Amazon has a couple of prototype satellites up there that it is using for testing. But it needs to ramp things up if it is to meet its rollout targets; the FCC gave the go ahead for Project Kuiper to launch 3,236 satellites as long ago as July 2020, half of which need to be in orbit by the middle of 2026.

The Kirkland facility will help with that. It is a 172,000-square-foot factory that can manufacture and test satellites. This week marked its formal opening, but it has been in operation since April.

Talk of it being able to build as many as five satellites per day refers to the facility's peak capacity; presumably it is not there yet. To help it get to that level of production, the Project Kuiper team has invented new and more efficient ways of testing hardware, without compromising the reliability or safety, Amazon said. As a result, it had reduced testing time for individual satellites to days, rather than months.

"Building advanced communications satellites at this scale is incredibly complex, and we want to ensure every Kuiper spacecraft meets our standards for performance, reliability, and safety," said Steve Metayer, Project Kuiper's vice president of production operations, in a statement.

"The progress from the team is so impressive, and we now have the foundational pieces in place to ramp production ahead of a full-scale deployment," Metayer said. "We can't wait to get service to our customers as soon as possible."

More to the point, Project Kuiper needs to get service to customers quickly if it wants to avoid falling even further behind. It is specifically targeting customers in hard-to-reach areas, where other connectivity options are unreliable or non-existent. And given that it's an endeavour that doesn't come cheap – Amazon is committing US$10 billion to the project – it needs to sign up a fair few.

Amazon's global presence and marketing heft will be an asset on that score. But it needs to get its skates on.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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