A giant rocket is transported on its side to a launch pad.
Enlarge / Amazon is counting on the Vulcan rocket, a pathfinder for which is shown here, to deliver a large number of satellites into space.

The largest commercial launch deal ever was announced by Amazon. The company said it has agreements with three different companies for 83 launches. The majority of Amazon's low-Earth-orbit constellation of broadband satellites will be deployed by the rockets.

Over the next five years, Amazon will procure launches from every major Western provider except for its direct satellite competitor. This purchase is the majority of any spare launch capacity for larger rockets in the United States or Europe over the next half-decade.

Amazon has agreements with several companies to build out its constellation of 3,236 satellites.

  • Arianespace: 18 launches of Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket
  • Blue Origin: 12 launches of the company's New Glenn rocket, with options for 15 additional launches
  • United Launch Alliance: 38 launches of the company's Vulcan rocket

The final nine Atlas V rocket launches have been purchased by Amazon, which is powered by Russian engines.

Amazon wants to bring fast and affordable broadband Internet access to tens of millions of customers in unserved and underserved communities around the world. In the fourth quarter of 2022, the company plans to launch two prototype satellites. After the demonstration mission later this year, a date for when the operational constellation will begin will be shared.

Dave Limp, Amazon's senior vice president for Devices and Services, said in a news release that the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of the satellite system.

This is a big deal for the space industry. Amazon is likely to pay at least $10 billion for these launches. That is a lot of money for the commercial launch industry.


Game on, SpaceX!

Amazon is competing with other companies in building out its constellation. The timing of Amazon's first launches shows it is four years behind.

No one in the industry can compete with the price or launch cadence of the Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, which is why Amazon is behind it. The internal cost per launch is likely to be less than $30 million because of the reuse of the first stage. At least three times as much is likely to be paid by Amazon.

It is not clear whether Amazon simply chose to avoid either of them. The latter is more likely, as OneWeb is working with another satellite competitor. Amazon is assuming some risk by using other providers.

None of the rockets that Amazon has chosen has flown. The Ariane 6 and Vulcan rockets will probably take about a year to make their debut flights. The first flight of New Glenn is at least two years away.

Amazon is asking for a lot of rockets. In order to complete both their existing manifest and additional Project Kuiper missions, the company wants them to reach a high flight cadence during the mid 2020s. For example, the Ariane 6 rocket was planned for six to nine launches a year, but with the Soyuz vehicle off the market for European satellites, it will now carry additional demand. How quickly will the Ariane 6 be able to accommodate three or more annual missions?

This is a huge shot in the arm to the primary Western launch competitors. The United Launch Alliance and Arianespace had a lot of commercial and military launches taken away by the Falcon 9 rocket. Jeff Bezos has 888-269-5556 888-269-5556 888-269-5556 888-269-5556 888-269-5556.

It will be fun to see which of these companies can execute on their new rockets in the coming years and quickly reach a high flight cadence. Not all three will make it.