Within a few years, Amazon hopes to build and launch up to 80 satellites a month to populate the company’s Kuiper constellation, a $10 billion network that is similar to the fleets already operated by SpaceX and OneWeb that provide internet connectivity around the world.
In the next six months, Amazon plans to begin manufacturing operational Kuiper satellites at a new 172,000-square-foot factory in Kirkland, Washington. On Friday, officials from Amazon and the Florida government announced that a 100,000-square-foot facility under construction at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will serve as a satellite processing facility dedicated to the Kuiper program.
Inside this facility, next to the old spacecraft landing strip, engineers will mount the Kuiper satellites in large orbital mechanisms that stand several stories high, then encapsulate the structure inside the nose cones of their rockets. The fully integrated payload bays will then be moved to launch pads operated by United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin — the space company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, a few miles away.
The new structure is being built on land leased by NASA to Space Florida, a state-funded economic development agency focused on luring commercial space companies to the Sunshine State. It has a high bay that will be about 100 feet (30 meters) high, large enough to house the payload sections of ULA and Blue Origin’s heavy rockets. Amazon says it is investing about $120 million in the new facility, which is sized to accommodate up to three simultaneous launch campaigns.
“One of the things that makes this facility so unique and such a great place to do business is the proximity to launch providers and launch sites,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy.
Amazon’s Kuiper Project is one of several large “mega-constellations” either already in space or close to launch. It is a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink network, which already has more than 4,000 satellites in orbit, and OneWeb’s broadband constellation, which numbers more than 600 spacecraft.
If you follow the industry, you’ll know that SpaceX is regularly launching its Starlink satellites in large batches aboard the company’s own Falcon 9 rocket. Those flights from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., account for about half of SpaceX’s missions over the past two years, with Starlink launches flying an average of about once a week.
The projected scale of Amazon’s launch is almost as ambitious. The company aims to deploy about half of its 3,236 satellites by July 2026, a deadline to maintain network authorization from the Federal Communications Commission. This would require at least two launches per month, and possibly more, from Amazon’s stable launch service providers.
The expected launch cadence requires a dedicated building to prepare the satellites for launch, Amazon officials said.
Last year, Amazon signed the largest commercial launch contract in history, grabbing rides with ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, Blue Origin’s New Glenn and Arianespace’s Ariane 6 launcher. All told, Amazon has purchased 77 launches: 38 Vulcan launches, plus nine flights on ULA’s soon-to-be-retired Atlas V, 18 Ariane 6 rockets and 12 New Glenn missions, with a contract option for 15 more.
This will cover the needs of the Kuiper launch service for its 3,200 satellites. But all of those rockets, except for the Atlas V, are still under development. ULA’s Vulcan looks like it will fly first from Amazon’s production launch vehicle, possibly followed by the European-built Ariane 6 and then Blue Origin’s New Glenn.
SpaceX was not part of the launch contracts, and that was no surprise since Amazon’s Kuiper network will compete with Starlink. But OneWeb, another satellite broadband provider, signed a deal with SpaceX last year to launch its satellites on Falcon 9 rockets after launches on Russian rockets failed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.