Amazon asks FCC for approval of global broadband satellite network

09 July 2019 | Laurence Doe

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Kuiper Systems LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of e-commerce giant Amazon, has filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that seek permission to launch 3,236 satellites as part of a project to create a global broadband network.

With a similar objective to that of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink mission, Kuiper Systems has requested authority to operate a non-geostationary satellite orbit system using Ka-band frequencies.

The satellites will operate in 98 orbital planes at altitudes of 590km, 610km, and 630km as part of Amazon’s long-term initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.

In its executive summary of the project to the FFC, the counsel for Kuiper Systems stated that Amazon “has the expertise, infrastructure, and financial resources to make the Kuiper System a success”, and that it would close the digital divide in the US and globally.

It added: “Amazon also has global terrestrial networking and compute infrastructure required for the Kuiper System, including intercontinental fibre links, data centres, compute/edge compute capabilities and the tools, techniques, and know-how to securely and efficiently transport data.

“Amazon will leverage its resources and capabilities to develop, implement, and interconnect the Kuiper System and terrestrial networks to delight customers. Amazon shares the FCC’s vision that everyone should have access to high-speed broadband services at affordable prices, and we stand ready to make this vision a reality.”

Kuiper Systems' reference to "FCC's vision" relates to the issues highlighted in the regulator’s 2019 Broadband Deployment report.

The FCC found that 21.3 million Americans lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband with benchmark download and upload speeds of 25Mbps/3Mbps, and more than 33 million Americans do not have access to mobile LTE broadband speeds of 10Mbps/3Mbps.

Kuiper Systems’ president and former vice president of SpaceX Rajeev Badyal will need to ensure that the launch avoids causing the problems his previous employer has faced criticism for as SpaceX's initial launch of 60 satellites stoked fears over space debris when three of its satellites lost communication within weeks of deployment.

SpaceX has FCC permission to deploy nearly 12,000 low-Earth satellites, and experts have warned that more launches could add debris to that already orbiting Earth, blocking rockets and adding to the Kessler syndrome effect.

To convince the FCC that it has a sufficient plan to avoid orbital debris, Amazon said it will take less than a year to "actively decommission and deorbit" each satellite and burn them up in the atmosphere.

Satellites will also "be deactivated automatically if all communications to ground stations cease for a pre-determined wait period," Amazon stated, adding that in those cases a "passive deorbit" would rely on an atmospheric drag taking place over five to seven years.