Amazon has received US approval for its Project Kuiper broadband satellite constellation and says it will invest more than $10bn in the initiative that will bring it into direct competition with SpaceX's Starlink business.
The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved Amazon's plan, revealed in mid-2019, to launch 3,236 satellites into low-Earth orbit and deliver broadband to underserved parts of the world.
The FCC decision marks the first major development in Amazon's satellite broadband plans in months. Over the past year, Elon Musk's SpaceX has launched batches of 60 Starlink broadband satellites on the back of SpaceX rockets at a rate of about one launch per month.
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SpaceX currently has just under 600 Starlink satellites in orbit and is gearing up to launch its private beta with users in North America.
In that time, potential satellite broadband rival, OneWeb, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in March after failing to secure additional funding and launching just 76 satellites.
OneWeb was given a controversial $500m lifeline by a consortium including India's Bharti Global and the UK government in July, which may allow it to reach its target of launching 600 internet-beaming satellites.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos takes a keen interest in spaceflight, founding aerospace company Blue Origin in 2000. However, it has not yet been confirmed which company will be responsible for launching the Project Kuiper satellites.
Amazon's Kuiper says its broadband service can begin once 578 satellites have been launched. It plans to deploy the system in five phases, with its satellites operating at altitudes of 367 miles, or 590km, 379 miles (610km) and 391 miles (630km), according to the FCC's approval document.
Like SpaceX, Amazon says its service will provide high-speed, low-latency broadband services to places where traditional fiber or wireless network providers haven't been able to reach.
The service will include gateway earth stations, end-user ground terminals, and satellite operations centers.
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It will also provide backhaul solutions for wireless carriers to broaden coverage of LTE and 5G service to new regions.
"There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn't exist at all. Kuiper will change that. Our $10bn investment will create jobs and infrastructure around the United States that will help us close this gap," said Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon.
The FCC's order requires that Amazon launch and operate half of its satellites by July 30, 2026 and then launch the remainder of the constellation by July 30, 2029.
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