The showdown between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos has heated up over the past year. Musk extended his lead as the world's wealthiest man, while Bezos continues to make Amazon the most dominant force in tech and commerce.
The space frontier is another area where both men have battled it out for supremacy. Musk's SpaceX is the clear leader for now, but Bezos' projects aren't far behind.
Kuiper Eyes Its Prototype Launch
In November 2021, Amazon announced it would fly the first satellite prototypes for Project Kuiper in 2022. The company confirmed it filed for an experimental license with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch two satellites - KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2.
The company's satellites will test the strength of networking and communication systems, which Amazon's engineers hope to use in the final satellites' design. They will include custom modems, propulsion and power systems, even antennas.
Besides communication and networking, Kuiper's two-year license - if granted - will help the company collect performance and telemetry data over time. Both satellites will operate around 590 kilometers over the surface of the Earth, Amazon believing this will be more than enough to gather the data it needs to move into the next production phase.
As soon as prototypes are up and running, Amazon will run tests on its customer terminal. The company claims the terminal can offer up to 400Mbps in bandwidth by changing the design to overlay antennas instead of having transmission and receiving antennas next to each other.
Building Momentum From Last Year
In July 2020, Kuiper got a license from the FCC to perform some experiments. Under that license, Amazon aims to send about 50% of its total constellation of satellites (about 3,236) to space within the next six years.
Once they reach orbit, the satellites will connect to ground stations in Texas, Asia, and South America - plus four customer terminals. Amazon has failed to offer much information about the customer units in its application, though it did note they will be prototypes for an innovative, cost-efficient terminal.
Assuming the current license approval gets the green light from the FCC, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 are expected to launch in two separate missions by the end of 2022.
Anyone looking at Project Kuiper can see the allure. The entire project aims to deliver fast broadband internet connectivity to underserved communities worldwide, offering a new and pocket-friendly way to connect.
Offering internet access will help Amazon's overall bottom line, and the move to space-based internet offering will further bolster Amazon Web Services (AWS) - the cloud computing and business management platform that has quickly become Amazon's golden goose.
Paths Clashing Across Multiple Industries
There's no doubt that the space race between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will continue to intensify. Both men have shown a propensity to step into each others' fields - whether directly or indirectly. SpaceX and Blue Origin are currently the two largest private aerospace companies, and they owe much of their size to the personal fortunes of both men.
Interestingly, Bezos has also made an indirect entry into the electric vehicle space - currently ruled by Musk's Tesla. In October 2021, Amazon invested $1.34 billion for a 20 percent stake in Rivian - an electric vehicle company that went public at the time. Rivian has been a star in the industry so far, and there are massive bets that the company could eventually challenge Tesla in the years to come.
When it comes to internet connectivity, Musk is still miles ahead. SpaceX has made significant progress with its Starlink system. The company already controls thousands of satellites in space and offers beta access to its network in certain parts of the world.
Still, it will be nothing short of complacency if SpaceX relaxes while Amazon builds and matches its capacity. The e-commerce giant is famous for building quickly and overcoming obstacles in record time. It will likely do the same with Kuiper.