Former Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos has reunited with his former company in a landmark deal to launch 83 satellites in upcoming years, in what has been described as the largest deal ever in the history of the commercial space industry.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it would be partnering with numerous companies to launch a total of 83 satellites over the span of five years, including 12 with Bezos-owned Blue Origin, 18 with French launch service provider Arianespace, and 38 with Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance. The contract also allows for 15 additional launches in collaboration with a private venture owned by Bezos.
These satellites are a feature of Project Kuiper, an undertaking by Amazon that seeks to provide broadband internet access worldwide by means of a series of satellites in low Earth orbit.
“Project Kuiper will provide fast, affordable broadband to tens of millions of customers in unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Amazon executive David Limp in a press release.
“We still have lots of work ahead, but the team has continued to hit milestone after milestone across every aspect of our satellite system. These launch agreements reflect our incredible commitment and belief in Project Kuiper, and we’re proud to be working with such an impressive lineup of partners to deliver on our mission.”
Bezos retired from his role as CEO of Amazon in July 2020, but he retains a 12.7 percent share in the company he founded, where he still serves as executive chairman.
However, since Bezos stepped down as CEO of his most successful company, the billionaire has notably diversified his business ventures and shifted focus elsewhere.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of Bezos’ post-Amazon enterprises has been Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup that has drawn headlines for shaking up the nascent commercial spaceflight industry. Founded by Bezos in 2000, Blue Origin has acquired a much higher profile since July 2021, when the Amazon founder took part in a manned spaceflight just weeks after stepping down as CEO of Amazon.
This space flight fuelled a media narrative of a supposed “space race” between Bezos and Elon Musk, the second-wealthiest and wealthiest men in the world, respectively. Musk, whose own startup SpaceX is Blue Origin’s primary competitor, has suggested that Blue Origin’s Project Jarvis had “copied” his own company’s Starship.
While manned spaceflights have driven much of the media attention around Blue Origin and SpaceX, perhaps more significant for both companies are the satellites they have launched. With Earth’s orbit largely unregulated under international law, private companies have taken a proactive approach to claim the skies while the space is still available.
Musk’s SpaceX is seen as the dominant player in this space race, with over 2,000 SpaceX satellites, with the company owning 36 percent of all active satellites as of September 2021. The preeminence of SpaceX has drawn criticism from some such as Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, who claimed last December that Musk was “making the rules” for space with his dominance of the satellite industry.