Amazon hasn't launched one internet satellite yet, but it's now planning a fleet of 7,774

Low Earth orbit is going to be chockablock with broadband-beaming birds


Amazon wants to launch another 4,538 satellites to provide wireless broadband internet under Project Kuiper, according to a fresh filing to America's communications watchdog.

The mega-corp was previously approved to send 3,236 birds into low Earth orbit by 2029. Now, it wants to expand that number to 7,774.

“Kuiper Systems LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon, requests FCC authority to launch and operate a non-geostationary satellite orbit fixed-satellite service system as a part of Kuiper’s second-generation constellation,” it said in its application [PDF].

“Utilizing V-and Ku-band frequencies, the 'Kuiper-V System' will be comprised of 7,774 satellites in five altitude and inclination combinations between 590 and 650km, including two polar shells, and will provide high-speed, low-cost, and low-latency broadband services to tens of millions of customers domestically and internationally.”

The latest FCC request is the second one Amazon has filed this week. On Monday, it unveiled plans to lob two prototype satellites into orbit by Q4 2022 to test their broadband capabilities ahead of deploying the full Kuiper network.

"There is no substitute for in-orbit testing, and we expect to learn a lot given the complexity and risk of operating in such a challenging environment," enthused Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for the project. "We can’t wait to get started."

There’s good reason to be hasty, however, considering competition is heating up. Rival SpaceX already has a head start with about 1,700 sats circling our planet and wants to launch tens of thousands more.

On Wednesday the FCC approved Boeing’s application [PDF] to eventually launch 147 satellites to provide data services to America, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. And on Friday the UK government-backed OneWeb unveiled plans for another 648 satellites of their own, already nicknamed Brexit Broadband by some.

Orbital upstarts are getting in on the scene, too. Launch vehicle startup Astra has applied for approval to launch up to 13,620 satellites. These will be “supported by a global network of gateway earth stations” to transmit and receive V-band frequencies to supply broadband internet for customers mostly in the US [PDF].

Low Earth orbit looks like it could get very crowded, indeed. ®


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