Amazon's Project Kuiper Gears Up To Go Against Starlink With Three New Satellite Antennas

Project Kuiper 8 photos
Photo: Amazon
Prometheus ChipProject Kuiper Customer TerminalsProject Kuiper Compact Customer TerminalProject Kuiper Pro Customer TerminalProject Kuiper Prototype SatellitesProject Kuiper Prototype SatellitesProject Kuiper Standard Customer Terminal
Satellite internet was and still is a total game-changer. Amazon is catching up by taking on SpaceX's Starlink with its own Project Kuiper internet network. Today, I'd like to tell you more about this initiative and its latest updates.
Nowadays, many people are constantly connected to the internet, as our lives are more digitalized than ever. Needless to say, it's even more critical for businesses to remain connected. Satellite internet offers remote connectivity without the need for complex ground structures. Furthermore, it provides global high-speed coverage accessible through different portable and mobile devices, and there's a smaller chance of service interruption. Even though satellite broadband involves significant innovation and investment, it can be worth it.

Amazon revealed three satellite antennas on Tuesday, March 14, which customers will use to connect to the Project Kuiper internet network. The aim is to provide fast, affordable broadband to communities around the world, especially those who don't have access to traditional internet and communications options.

Amazon will launch thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), which will be connected to a global network of antennas, fiber, and internet connection points on the ground. You could assume this endeavor is related to Blue Origin, but this is not the case – Project Kuiper is an Amazon initiative, while Blue Origin is a separate company founded by Jeff Bezos. Admittedly, Blue Origin will serve as one of the launch partners.

The tech giant started the research and development for this project in 2018, and it obtained a license to deploy the satellites from the FCC (U.S. Federal Communications Commission) in July 2020. Moreover, the license requires that Amazon deploys and operates at least half of the satellite constellation by July 2026.

Project Kuiper Customer Terminals
Photo: Amazon
Customers must install an outdoor antenna, also known as a customer terminal, to access the service. It allows communication with satellites passing overhead. Traditionally, this hardware tends to be large, complex, and expensive, so widespread use was impossible. Here's Amazon's solution to this issue.

The new trio of antennas will enable customers to connect to the satellite network. At the beginning of the initiative, Amazon set quite an ambitious goal: design a customer terminal that costs less than $500 (€469) to build. Engineers reached that objective in 2020, creating a new antenna architecture that was smaller and lighter than traditional designs. Amazon has continued to work on making the terminal design even smaller, more affordable, and more capable. Finally, the results were in, and Amazon revealed them this week at a satellite industry conference in Washington, D.C.

The first one is designed for residential and small business customers. Project Kuiper's standard terminal measures less than 11 inches (28 centimeters) square and 1 inch (2.5 inches) thick. Excluding its mounting bracket, it weighs a mere five pounds (2.2 kg). Don't get fooled by its tiny proportions, as the company claims it will be "one of the most powerful commercially available customer terminals of its size," capable of speeds up to 400 Mbps (megabits per second). Amazon expects to produce the terminal for less than $400 (€375) each.

But wait, there's an even smaller terminal available, the tiniest and most affordable customer terminal in the range. It weighs just one pound (0.45 kg), but will deliver speeds up to 100 Mbps. It's the ideal solution for those who wish to spend less on such technology and don't require significant speeds. Furthermore, another opportunity is for government and enterprise customers who want to pursue applications such as ground mobility and the internet of things (IoT).

Project Kuiper Pro Customer Terminal
Photo: Amazon
And finally, we have Project Kuiper's largest and most capable model, meant for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications that need as much bandwidth as possible. This unit measures 19 x 30 inches (28 x 76 centimeters) and will offer speeds up to 1 Gbps (gigabit per second).

At the core of these terminals is the Amazon-engineered baseband chip, developed under the fitting code name "Prometheus." It combines the capabilities of 5G modem chips found in modern smartphones, cellular base stations, and microwave backhaul antennas into a single custom chip. Consequently, it will boast plenty of processing power, handle traffic from thousands of customers simultaneously, and support powerful point-to-point connections.

Besides being integrated into the customer terminals, Prometheus is also used in Project Kuiper's satellites and ground getaway antennas – that means each satellite will be able to process up to 1 Tbps (terabit per second) of traffic.

Project Kuiper's first two prototype satellites will be deployed on the first flight of United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket. The mission will allow Project Kuiper engineers to gain real-world data on how the systems work in space and test the communications network.

Project Kuiper Prototype Satellites
Photo: Amazon
Amazon expects to launch the first production satellites in the first half of 2024, and Project Kuiper's earliest customers will have access to the service starting later the same year.
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About the author: Mircea Mazuru
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Starting out with a motorcycle permit just because he could get one two years earlier than a driver's license, Mircea keeps his passion for bikes (motor or no motor) alive to this day. His lifelong dream is to build his own custom camper van.
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