Amazon on December 1, 2023 announced it has signed a three-launch contract with SpaceX to place its Kuiper satellites into orbit, supplementing the launch contracts it presently has with ULA, Arianespace, and Blue Origin. From the Amazon press release:
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a reusable, two-stage launch vehicle designed for the reliable and safe transport of people and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond, and it has completed more than 270 successful launches to date. Project Kuiper has contracted three Falcon 9 launches, and these missions are targeted to lift off beginning in mid-2025.
In 2022 Amazon had signed contracts with the other three launch companies, with ULA getting 38 Vulcan launches (in addition to 9 already signed for its Atlas-5), Arianespace getting 18 Ariane-6 launches, and Blue Origin getting 12 New Glenn launches.
The problem however is that, except for the Atlas-5, none of these rockets has yet completed its first flight. Since Amazon’s FCC license requires it to get half of its constellation of 3,200+ satellites into orbit by 2026 or face penalties, the uncertainty of these rockets has probably forced Amazon management to consider SpaceX, despite likely hostility to such a deal from Jeff Bezos (owner of Blue Origin and founder of Amazon).
Amazon management also probably decided to sign this deal because of a lawsuit filed in September 2023 by company stockholders, accusing the management of neglience because it never even considered SpaceX in earlier contract negotiations while giving favoritism to Bezos’s company Blue Origin. At that time Amazon had already paid these launch companies about $1.7 billion, with Blue Origin getting $585 million, though not one rocket has yet launched, with Blue Origin showing no evidence that a launch coming anytime soon.
The impression of a conflict of interest by Amazon’s board of directors appeared very obvious. This new SpaceX contract weakens that accusation.
More important the deal will help Amazon actually get its satellites into orbit. It appears that reality is finally biting at Amazon, and its management has realized that the three companies they have been relying on might not be up to the job (especially Blue Origin).
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