Jeff Bezos Explains Amazon’s Bet on Project Kuiper Satellites

Geek Wire has the details

For the first time in public, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained the rationale for his risky Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, during a fireside chat that was interrupted when an animal rights activist jumped on stage.

[. . .]

When Freshwater asked Bezos to name a “big bet” that Amazon has taken recently, he focused on Project Kuiper, the plan to put more than 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit for global broadband coverage. The project came to light in April, and seems likely to be based in Bellevue, Wash. Here’s how Bezos explained his bet:

“The goal here is broadband everywhere, but the very nature of [having] thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit is very different from geostationary satellites. … You have equal broadband all over the surface of Earth. Not exactly equal, it tends to be a lot more concentrated toward the poles, unfortunately.

“But you end up servicing the whole world. So it’s really good. By definition you end up accessing people who are ‘under-bandwidthed.’ Very rural areas, remote areas. And I think you can see going forward that internet, access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward.

“So Project Kuiper has that. It’s also a very good business for Amazon because it’s a very high-capex [capital expenditure] undertaking. It’s multiple billions of dollars of capex. … Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that, if they work, can actually move the needle.”

Amazon has already turned on its global satellite control networks, mostly located at it’s Global Data Centers strategically placed around the globe. As a significant provider of cloud services, LEO satellite delivery systems makes good business sense. It is the last link to providing cloud services to every business on the planet, at a highly competitive rate, compared to competitors like Microsoft Asure, IBM Cloud and lesser-known cloud companies relying on existing fiber network infrastructure. Amazon will be able to reach more global customers faster with competitive cloud service rates. More HERE.

The top ten cloud service companies are:

Kamatera.
phoenixNAP.
Amazon Web Services.
Microsoft Azure.
Google Cloud Platform.
Adobe.
VMware.
IBM Cloud.

After Amazon, only Google has made a move toward having an LEO satellite distribution system, partnering with Telesat and adapting Project Loon to LEO applications

Loon adapting connection routing ‘network brain’ from balloons to low Earth orbit satellites

While I admire and root for SpaceX, who is building a top-down system, Amazon is taking a bottom-up approach, building on existing reliable infrastructure and capping it with a fleet of LEO satellites has a higher probability of succeeding.  The open question is can Amazon catch SpaceX and OneWeb who have birds in space.

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Amazon’s Broadband Network from the Ground Up

Amazon has not launched any LEO Broadband Satellites like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat but they already have a ground station network for controlling satellites, uploading and downloading data. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, announces its availability in the video below:

The AWS Ground Station Network is a fully managed, ready-to-go ground station service, featuring:

  • No upfront cost.
  • Scaleability — you only pay for antenna time.
  • No long-term contract.
  • Self-service scheduling on a per-minute basis, that can be changed dynamically using their ground station console.
  • Secure transmission.
  • Low latency due to proximity to Amazon data centers.
  • Integration with EC2, S3 and other Amazon services and Amazon’s global network backbone.
  • Simultaneous up/download.
  • Support of most common communication frequencies.

 

The open question is will SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat use this service?

SpaceX’s Elon Musk says ‘Goodness’ Will Come From Twice-Delayed Starlink Launch

GeekWire has a long article on Starlink HERE.

. . .This first launch is primarily aimed at demonstrating the technology for what could eventually amount to as many as 11,000 satellites in low Earth orbit.

Musk said only about 400 satellites would be required to build up a “useful” satellite constellation, which translates into about six launches after this mission’s scheduled deployment. Mark Juncosa, vice president of vehicle engineering at SpaceX, said another six launches would provide good coverage over the United States. An additional six to 12 launches would raise the satellite tally high enough to cover the world.

“Within a year and a half, maybe two years, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined,” Musk said.

Continues reading HERE.

 

New Space Race To Bring Satellite Internet To The World

Some views by industry leaders on the satellite internet race at CTVNews.

Anxiety has set in across the space industry ever since the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, revealed Project Kuiper: a plan to put 3,236 satellites in orbit to provide high-speed internet across the globe.

Offering broadband internet coverage to digital deserts is also the goal of the company OneWeb, which is set to start building two satellites a day this summer in Florida, for a constellation of over 600 expected to be operational by 2021

Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX is equally active: it’s just received a clearance to put 12,000 satellites in orbit at various altitudes in the Starlink constellation.
Not to mention other projects in the pipeline that have less funding or are not yet as defined.

Is there even enough space for three, four, five or more space-based internet providers?

At the Satellite 2019 international conference in Washington this week, professionals from the sector said they feared an expensive bloodbath — especially if Bezos, the founder of Amazon, decides to crush the competition with ultra-low prices.

“Jeff Bezos is rich enough to put you out of business,” said Matt Desch, the CEO of Iridium Communications.

Iridium knows all about bankruptcy. The company launched a satellite phone in the 1990s — a brick-like set that cost $3,000 with call rates of $3 a minute. Barely anyone subscribed at the dawn of the mobile era.

The firm eventually relaunched itself and has just finished renewing its entire constellation: 66 satellites offering connectivity, but not broadband, with 100 percent global coverage to institutional clients including ships, planes, militaries and businesses.

“The problem with satellites, it’s billions of dollars of investments,” said Desch.
And if “you spend billions and you get it wrong, you end up creating sort of a nuclear winter for the whole industry for 10 years. We did that,” he added.

“These guys coming in, I wish them really well… I hope they don’t take 30 years to become successful like we did.”

Continue reading HERE.  These two paragraphs caught my attention:

“The challenge in monetizing is being able to get through those first few years, where you have to put in all your capital expenses, but not being able to get enough revenues to keep you afloat,” Shagun Sachdeva, a senior analyst at Northern Sky Research, told AFP.

Sachdeva expects most of the companies to die off, adding that the market will eventually have room for “maybe two” and that space-delivered internet services won’t be commonplace for at least five to 10 years.

That is longer than I want to wait.

SpaceX Plans to Launch Dozens of Starlink Broadband Satellites Next Week (Updated 05-12-19)

GeekWire has the details:

SpaceX confirmed that it will launch dozens of Starlink satellites in one go, as early as May 15, setting the stage for what’s expected to become a constellation of thousands of satellites providing global broadband data access from low Earth orbit.

The company’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, laid out those details today at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. In an email exchange with GeekWire, SpaceX confirmed what Shotwell said but could add no further information.

[. . .]

Two test satellites, nicknamed TinTin A and B, were launched in February 2018, and Musk reported a year ago that the broadband connection was good enough for playing video games. But the spacecraft design is said to have changed significantly since then. The launch set for next week at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida will be the first to carry satellites reflecting the new design.

Shotwell characterized this first wave as a demonstration set, with no satellite-to-satellite communication links. Depending on how the demonstrations proceed, from two to six Starlink launches could follow by the end of this year, she said.

[. . .]

SpaceX has said it plans to start offering broadband service in the 2020-2021 time frame, and the company is facing an FCC requirement to put half of the satellites in its first constellation into operation by 2024.

The full GeekWire article is HERE.

“Dozens” of satellites on a single launch” One dozen is 12, two dozen would be 24, three dozen would be 36.

Update 05/12/19: We now know that SpaceX “dozens” are five dozen or 60 Starlinks per launch. See the 05/12/19 blog post.

 

SpaceX Starlink: How Will the Internet Satellites Work?

Inverse has the details:

Satellite internet promises broader access to a wider range of people than traditional cable-based networks, but latency has been a major issue. A 2013 analysis found satellite systems could reach latency of 638 milliseconds, around 20 times slower than wired. That means that while data could download at a comparable speed to regular connections, the slow response times would make gaming and other reaction-sensitive activities sluggish.

Musk claims Starlink will be lower latency enough to power video games. Access will be delivered to users through a ground terminal the size of a pizza box, differentiating it from other services that beam directly to the device. SpaceX filed with the FCC for permission in February for 1 million fixed-Earth stations that will communicate with the satellite array. These systems use steered antenna beams to communicate with the satellite it can see in the sky. SpaceX tested this setup in February 2018 by launching two test satellites communicating with six ground stations.

The new proposals make some key adjustments to these plans that could improve the long-term viability of the project. Mark Handley, a professor of networked systems at University College London, told Inverse in November 2018 that a lower orbit means the satellites will stay up for around five years once defunct before falling to Earth unlike the original design that could have led to satellites floating around for decades creating space junk. There’s also more space between each satellite, of 90 kilometers instead of 40, reducing the chances of collisions.

Overall, Handley explains, the system could halve communication times between London and Singapore, in part because light in a vacuum is 50 percent faster than light through glass, such as fiber optic, and also because fiber optic sometimes takes a less direct path. Starlink will use lasers to communicate with others in the array, forming a fast-moving global network.

Link to video HERE.

Operational launches start in May from Florida on a Falcon 9, but the majority of the Starlinks birds will be launched with the Falcon Heavy from Texas.  There are more details on the Starlink program and its goals at this LINK.

Radio Astronomers Not Happy About Constellations of LEO Satellites

Space Daily has some details:

Today, radio astronomy faces a new front of enormous satellite constellations, the big three being: SpaceX’s Starlink, OneWeb, and IridiumNEXT. The SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation aims to launch around 12,000 satellites to serve the purpose of a space-based Internet system. The OneWeb constellation’s end plan is to have almost 3,000 satellites in orbit to also serve the purpose of an Internet service. Iridium NEXT, like the original constellation, is a telecommunications satellite constellation consisting of 66 satellites. Of the three, Starlink obviously grabs the most attention and instills the most fear for obvious reasons. Harvey Liszt, astronomer and spectrum manager for the NRAO, reached out to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in February 2018 to express concern over SpaceX’s constellation.

“SpaceX, which plans to use the 10.7 – 12.7 GHz band for its downlink, has not yet fulfilled its obligations under US131. Coordination between SpaceX and the AUI observatories (together with NSF) trailed off inconclusively around the middle of 2017 after a tentative and rather preliminary treatment of radio astronomy’s concerns and the manner in which SpaceX planned to address them.”

Continue reading HERE.

As a former Amateur Radio Astronomer and visitor to radio astronomy observatories across the nation, I understand the magnitude of the problem.  I have visited the Green Bank Radio Observatory several times, and the Very Large Array was an excellent experience.

Very_Large_Array,_2012

We drove up to the VLR about three in the afternoon, and as we stood outside our vehicle, all the antenna is the array started to move, sweeping across the sky toward the sun. The sun is sometimes used by an astronomer to calibrate receivers, we have no idea if this was the case this time. We drove on to the central facility, and the doors were all lock, but we found some stairs and platform that let us look in windows of the observer station. It was vacant, no observers at the controls.  It was spooky watch the antenna move and knowing the control room was empty, no humans present. The VLA is monitored and controlled remotely.