Amazon hitches a ride with SpaceX for Project Kuiper launches

Working rockets are needed, and only a direct rival can provide for now

Amazon is signing a contract with SpaceX for three Falcon 9 launches to help "support deployment plans" for the Project Kuiper satellite broadband initiative.

This is all about adding capacity to support the schedule, Amazon insists. Yet of the heavy-lift rocket launches Amazon has so far procured from different providers, a good few still depend on rockets that have yet to take their maiden flight, let alone achieve operational status.

SpaceX was conspicuously absent from the initial Project Kuiper launch contracts, much to the chagrin of at least one Amazon shareholder who filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that Amazon failed to do its due diligence in the contract award, as evidenced by the omission of SpaceX and its proven launch system in favor of Blue Origin, Arianespace, and United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Having shown that its first two prototype Project Kuiper satellites work as expected, Amazon is ramping up spacecraft production to deploy the constellation as rapidly as possible.

However, this hinges on hitching a ride to orbit. While Amazon's order with SpaceX includes several Atlas V launches, lofting the vast majority of its satellites will depend on the yet-to-be-flown Vulcan Centaur, Ariane 6, and New Glenn.

The Vulcan Centaur might make its debut in the coming months, the Ariane 6 is tentatively set for some time between mid-June and the end of July 2024, and Blue Origin's New Glenn looks set to reach the launchpad next year.

Even assuming the three rockets do indeed make their first flights in 2024, all are hugely delayed.

Although SpaceX appears quite happy to launch rivals to its Starlink constellation on the Falcon 9, it is easy to imagine a chill breeze blowing through Amazon after the company signed off on the deal: Amazon's Jeff Bezos and SpaceX supremo Elon Musk are not exactly the best of friends.

Still, for anyone worrying about the impact of rockets on climate change and global warming, the deal will be reassuring. Hell, it appears, just froze over. ®

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