Understand everything about Kuiper, the project to put thousands of satellites into orbit in space

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The online sales company Amazon formalized on Tuesday morning “the signing of agreements with Arianespace, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the provision of launch services” for its satellites. What are we talking about ? How it will go ? Is this good news? 20 minutes explains everything to you.

What is Amazon’s plan?

Amazon aims to put a constellation of satellites into low orbit. The Kuiper project plans to send 3,236 satellites in all, in order to provide high-speed internet, especially in areas where the connection is limited or non-existent.

The online sales juggernaut is not the only one with ambitions to conquer space: the Kuiper project is in direct competition with SpaceX’s Starlink, which plans to send 42,000 minisatellites or even the less ambitious One Web, with a target of 648. The market for the end of the white zones attracts many players, many of whom are new to the space

How it will go ?

The launches are divided between three companies: Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos (like Amazon) was awarded 37 launches, including 15 as options for its giant New Glenn launcher, the joint venture of Boeing and ockheed Martin ULA 38 and the European Arianespace 18.

These launches will be carried out by Ariane 6, the launcher which is to replace Ariane 5 this year. The amounts, which one imagines staggering, of these contracts were not disclosed, however Amazon had claimed to have already invested “more than ten billion dollars” in this project. According to the executive chairman of Arianespace, Stéphane Israel, the European company will carry out six launches per year for three years. Each Ariane 6 will carry between 35 and 40 satellites from the Kuiper project into space.

By ordering its launches from three different companies, Bezos hopes to catch up with rival project Starlink, whose satellites began launches with the Falcon 9 rocket nearly three years ago. Plus, Amazon is working on a tight schedule. To keep the license granted by the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission), the Kuiper project must deploy half of the satellites planned before 2026, and the other before 2029.

What were the reactions?

For Arianespace, the signing of these contracts is a gift from heaven. The contract for 18 satellite launches from Amazon by Ariane 6 is “very good news”, says the president of the French space agency (Cnes), Philippe Baptiste: “This is very good news for Europe in the space sector. , which shows that the right choices have been made. We have a launcher which will make its first flight in a short time and which is competitive on the market, for me it is the beginning of Europe’s great return to space on launchers. The contract almost triples the backlog of Ariane 6, which so far stood at 11 shots. This is “an exceptional opportunity for Ariane 6”, enthuses its president Stéphane Israël.

This is all the more positive since the war in Ukraine has put the Guiana Space Center in difficulty. In response to European sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow suspended launches of its Soyuz launcher from Guyana, depriving the territory of significant economic benefits. However, this space race still worries many observers, especially researchers.

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