United Launch Alliance has signed an agreement with Amazon to launch nine Atlas V missions carrying the company’s Kuiper satellites.
Kuiper Systems, a subsidiary of Amazon was founded in 2019 with the aim of providing global high-speed, low-latency broadband satellite internet connectivity. Amazon has invested more than $10 billion in the venture and aims to launch 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit.
Announced April 19, the agreement with ULA will see a total of nine missions carrying several satellites launched aboard Atlas V rockets.
“We’re determined to make affordable broadband a reality for customers and communities around the world,” said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. “ULA is a fantastic partner that’s successfully launched dozens of missions for commercial and government customers, and we’re grateful for their support of Kuiper.”
ULA is in the process of transitioning away from its Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles in favour of its next-generation Vulcan Centaur, which is slated to debut later this year. As a result, the nine Kuiper missions aboard Atlas V rockets will likely be some of the last aboard a launch vehicle that has, in one form or another, served since 2002.
According to Project Kuiper vice president of technology Rajeev Badyal, the Kuiper satellites and their dispenser system are designed to accommodate multiple launch vehicles. This statement likely reveals that Kuiper Systems and Amazon will explore multiple launch options in addition to Atlas V.
The main bulk of the constellation, however, will likely be launched aboard the next-generation New Glenn heavy-lift rocket developed by Blue Origin, another Bezos company.
New Glenn has been under development at Blue Origin as far back as 2012. The rocket’s first stage is powered by four BE-4 methalox rocket engines developed in house. It is designed to be partially reusable and capable of carrying up to 45,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit.