Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet launched a single satellite, but in a video released this week, it’s talking up what its broadband internet constellation will be able to do for rural connectivity.
The video focuses on unmet broadband needs in Cle Elum (pop. 2,037), a town nestled in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington state.
“Quite a few people move out to this area because it’s gorgeous, but people are reluctant to open small businesses due to the lack of reliable internet,” Audrey Malek, founding partner of Basecamp Outfitters, says on camera.
The solution — at least according to MiMi Aung, senior manager at Project Kuiper — is the 3,236-satellite constellation that her team is planning to start testing in orbit as early as next year.
“Even just right here in our backyard, right outside Redmond, there are areas where there is no internet connection, or extraordinarily poor connection, and we can make a huge impact right away,” said Aung, who came to Amazon from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she headed up the project team behind the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.
Tyson Lamoreaux, vice president of network and infrastructure at Project Kuiper, stressed the potential for extending the reach of existing telecom infrastructure.
“Existing broadband providers and cellular providers can use Kuiper to be able to put a cellular tower in a place that’s currently a dead zone, where right now they may not have any other option available to them ” he said. “And we can go close those gaps in cellular service all over the globe.”
The video provides a few glimpses inside Project Kuiper’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and a few hints at what its broadband service will offer when it becomes available sometime in the next few years.
“Affordability is Job One for us,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “That’s really important for us to keep that cost low, because if we don’t, it’s very difficult to get the unserved and underserved connected to our service. So we took on the challenge to design our satellites two orders of magnitude cheaper.”
There are no glimpses, however, at the satellites themselves. “We’re designing the solar arrays, we’re designing the reaction wheels,” Badyal said.
More than a year ago, Amazon won the Federal Communications Commission’s conditional approval to put the first wave of its satellites in low Earth orbit — and announced that it’ll spend more than $10 billion on the project. However, Amazon is still working with the FCC on the details — including plans for minimizing orbital debris and sharing spectrum with the likes of SpaceX’s Starlink network and the OneWeb satellite constellation.
Most of the video released this week focuses on the obstacles that the residents of Cle Elum and its surroundings are currently facing, in a world where broadband internet access is becoming virtually essential. But the video doesn’t mention that Starlink is already available on a limited basis in communities ranging from Redmond (where SpaceX’s satellites are manufactured) to Cle Elum.