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Amazon announces launch agreements with Blue Origin, Arianespace, and ULA

Capitalism in space: Amazon today announced major multi-launch agreements with Blue Origin, Arianespace, and ULA to launch its 3,000+ Kuiper satellite constellation.

According to the press release, ULA won 38 launches using its new Vulcan-Centaur rocket (not yet flown), Arianespace won 18 launches using its new Ariane-6 rocket (not yet flown), and Blue Origin won 12 launches using its new New Glenn rocket (not yet flown), with an option for 15 more. The ULA deal is in addition to a previous launch contract of nine launches using the Atlas-5 rocket.

In addition, Amazon hopes to launch two prototype satellites later this year using ABL’s smallsat RS1 rocket (not yet flown).

Overall, this Amazon launch announcement might be the largest launch contract deal ever. However, the company’s reliance on unproven rockets means it will also likely face some delays and failures in its early stages. That the press release makes no mention of any schedule for launches illustrates this fact starkly. All four rockets have already seen major delays. with the three biggest (Vulcan-Centaur, New Glenn, Ariane 6) now more than two years behind schedule, and the likelihood of their first launch occurring in 2022 increasingly unlikely.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

14 comments

  • Ray Van Dune

    What is the purpose of this announcement? It seems to be saying “Look at how totally unrealistic our launch plan is, relying initially on rockets being phased out, then transitioning to paper rockets powered by paper engines?!”

    Of course Jeff Bezos and I have a mutual understanding. I know he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about America, and I feel the same way about him and his companies, so it’s all good.

  • Jay

    Looks like the first launch of Ariane-6 will be Q4 of this year. The first batch of 14 Ariane-6 rockets are going to ArianeSpace and are spoken for. I don’t think Amazon will get any Ariane-6 flights this year or next, and I don’t think ESA are ride sharing with those flights.

    With everyone scrambling to move away from Russian launch services as well, I don’t see Kuiper up and competing until 2025.

  • Jay

    Something interesting was brought up on the ArsTechnica site- Kuiper must have 50% of their satellites up by July 30th 2026 per their
    FCC Approval on Page 23, section 67, paragraph b. Also on section 68, if that is not met, Kuiper loses it’s surety bond.

    Nothing is going up this year and they have three and a half years to put up half their birds. That is a lot of launches.

  • Concerned

    With the exception of New Glenn, which maybe will be partially reusable, if it ever flies, the other two rockets are business as usual and completely disposable. Which means they’ll be tossing away into the ocean hundreds of millions of dollars worth of flight vehicles over scores of launches. No way this latest scheme of Dr.Evil will be financially viable, not to mention how late to the party he’ll be. Musk must be shaking his head in disbelief.

  • Ray Van Dune

    “Musk must be shaking his head in disbelief.”

    Yeah, that was the gist of my comment #1. A very long PR announcement to say “Our business plan is hopeless”.

  • George C

    Amazon has such a robust marketing and physical distribution channel that they don’t need to be first. Also as a media company they have a built in need for multicast bandwidth. Game of GO, not chess. Last 6 years have been so crazy who knows what the future will bring.

  • Jeff Wright

    Well said Ray.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune asked: “What is the purpose of this announcement?

    It gives everyone the knowledge that there is a plan. It is up to us to consider whether it is reasonable or hopeless, but at least the investors have a chance to be reassured.

    Robert, on occasion, points out that he has not heard any progress on various projects, and he often notes that he considers such lack of news to mean that progress is progressing slower than expected. No news is bad news.

    This news means that there is progress. However, the lack of proposed launch dates leaves it unknown whether that is due to unknown availability of the launch vehicles or slow manufacture of the spacecraft.

    The press release brags that this is “the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history,” which may be a public relations move, but this press release helps to keep Kuiper in the public mind at a time when other constellations are being discussed widely.

  • pzatchok

    Until Amazon starts writing some huge checks they are no more serious about this than VG was.

  • Edward: No news is not necessarily bad news. What can frequently signal a problem is when a company suddenly changes its pattern of announcing news. Back in 2017 and 2018 Blue Origin had been making regular updates on the progress of its BE-4 engine, including releasing videos of static test fires as well as even telling us when a test failed.

    Then all went silent. For the next four years the company made only rare updates, all of which provided no real information (such as video of tests). When you see a sudden change like this, accompanied by repeated delays (the engine was supposed to be ready in 2020), alarm bells should go off.

    For me they did, which is why I was predicting in 2019 that the BE-4 engine would almost certainly not be ready in 2020 as planned.

  • Richard M

    Nothing is going up this year and they have three and a half years to put up half their birds.

    Which is pretty clearly why they’re hedging their bets by spreading the launches out over four launch vehicles. (And the fact that the least number went to Blue Origin also offers insight into just what Amazon thinks of New Glenn’s development timeline.)

    But on beating that FCC deadline…maybe they can do it, but doubtless most of the launches will be towards the back end of this period of time. I expect most of the launches in 2022-23 are going to be on the Atlas V.

  • Ray Van Dune

    When ULA has a choice between using their remaining Altas boosters for Amazon or for DOD, I know which one they will pick. Without those Atlas launches, Amazon will not make their FCC deadlines.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    You wrote: “No news is not necessarily bad news. What can frequently signal a problem is when a company suddenly changes its pattern of announcing news.

    Good point, but I was trying to do a witty contradiction to “no news is good news.” It’s so embarrassing when I make a good joke, but I’m the only one laughing.

    Richard M wrote: “(And the fact that the least number went to Blue Origin also offers insight into just what Amazon thinks of New Glenn’s development timeline.)

    Maybe, but New Glenn also has the most capacity, at 45,000 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO). New Glenn may have the short end of the launch numbers due to its larger capacity. It can take 500 tonnes of Kuiper to orbit on the 12 minimum launches on this contract (options for an additional 15 launches doubles this number). Ariane 6 can take 21,000 kg per launch (18 launches is 400 tonnes), and the Atlas 5 almost 19,000 kg (9 launches is almost 170 tonnes). Vulcan-Centaur, on the other hand, packs a whopping 27,000 kg payload capacity (38 launches is 1,000 tonnes).

    I expect Blue Origin to have a reasonably sized fleet of New Glenn boosters in the next three years, and a larger fleet in a couple of years after that, and if Rocket Lab successfully starts reusing its boosters in the next couple of years there will be three companies with fleets of boosters. The other companies will still be splashing their boosters in the ocean, though.

    If these launchers don’t work out as expected, which I don’t expect to happen, then I’m sure the Falcon 9 will be available for Kuiper to meet its FAA minimum requirement to keep their frequencies open. (I have a couple of “frequency” jokes ready, but I’m not doing so well in the humor department on this thread, so go with whatever jokes you all can come up with on your own.).

  • Jay

    In other news, Estes rockets post a rebound in sales! Since they were the first to market with reusable rockets.

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