back to article Amazon sets up shop at Kennedy Space Center to prep Kuiper broadband satellites

Amazon is building a $120 million facility at the Kennedy Space Center, on Florida's Cape Canaveral, where it'll prepare Project Kuiper internet-relaying satellites for launch. The facility, already under construction at Space Florida's Launch and Landing Facility, will employ 50 workers, span 100,000 square feet, and feature …

  1. iron Silver badge

    Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse

    Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse again, or in this case planning to launch thousands of satellites before they have ever sent a rocket to space.

    Engines that don't blow up would help too.

    Try building the rocket first guys, it will save you a lot of time, money and embarassment.

    And no, 65km does not count as space no matter how many times Jeff repeats that lie.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse

      No problem they've got a really good price from Yodel to actually deliver them

      Would everybody around Florida please check in their bins, over the fence and in the hedges for any satellites

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse

      The generally accepted definition of space is 100km. The USAF chose 50miles. NASA switched from 100km to 50miles for consistency with the USAF. Blue Origin's New Sheppard gets comfortably over 100km so Blue Origin has got people into space (but not orbit) repeatedly. You are mixing things up with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic which takes people to a little over 50miles of altitude which is a much more questionable definition of space. Branson is the one pushing the USAF definition of even though his now deceased Virgin Orbit did put commercial payloads into orbit.

      Jeff took ages to get New Sheppard operational and is taking his time scaling up BE-4 engine production, New Glenn and Kuiper. The strategy maximises costs, but for him money is not a limited resource. If you want to find fault with Blue Origin, I would go with their litigation and lobbying work. BO has the patent for landing the first stage of a rocket on a ship and failed to block SpaceX with it. They sued NASA for selecting only one Human Landing System for Artemis and achieved a short delay in NASA being able to discuss Starship HLS with SpaceX. They got congress to fund an alternative HLS for Artemis V and got the USSF to select three providers instead of two for launches to the most challenging orbits.

      Those last two are more nuanced: the USSF launches are between five and ten years away. The USSF places a high value on assured access to space. They got thoroughly screwed when the only US medium and large rockets available were operated at monopoly prices by ULA. ULA prices did not fall far when SpaceX made cheap launch available because the USSF still wanted at least two independent systems. BO only get paid if New Glenn proves reliable with commercial and NASA payloads. How much they could get paid is still undecided. We will have to wait and see to find out how much US tax payers will be paying for a little extra resilience in access to space.

      BO's HLS will cost tax payers the same amount as Starship HLS. Starship is a much more ambitious system but BO have a proven track record in taking ages to develop space hardware. The good news is that the Blue Moon lander will definitely cost Jeff far more than Starship HLS will cost SpaceX. The down side is what might not get funded because BO lobbyists got this extra slice of pork.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse

        >Blue Origin has got people into space (but not orbit) repeatedly.

        Getting into space is easy, you can almost do it with a balloon. You can do it with an air-air missile fired from a fighter

        Getting into space, turning 90deg and accelerating to orbital velocity (8 km/s) is a mite more challenging

      2. Spazturtle Silver badge

        Re: Jeff's BO putting the cart before the horse

        "The generally accepted definition of space is 100km. "

        The generally accepted definition is 80km, the only people who use 100km are the FAI who are an aviation sports organisation, an they are considering switching to 80km.

        Karman calculated ~84km (52 miles) as the altitude at which in order to generate enough lift to sustain level flight you would have to be traveling at orbital speeds. Most countries round this to 80km and the US rounds to 50 miles.

  2. Bitsminer Silver badge

    Sign up? not me

    I'd never be able to unsubscribe, would I?

    Amazon Prime unsubscribe was bad enough.

    This one will need more clicks than there are asteroids in the Kuiper Belt.

  3. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Amazon plans to loft 3,200 satellites, where they'll compete with Elon Musk's Starlink constellation

    Jeff, Elon : Sigmund Freud would like a word with you. Launching big phallic thrusters into space where you can then spread your multitudinous payload in order to to compete with each other to see who has the most successful offspring indicates issues that a few sessions with a therapist could cure without the need to spend billions on rockets.

  4. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    A Cleanroom?!

    Why would Amazon need a cleanroom to assemble satellites in? It's not as if the satellites have delicate optics which need to be protected. Unless they do have delicate optics which need to be protected. Perhaps Bezos plans on taking the optic feed from all those 3,200 satellites and using computers to combine them somehow to produce more-detailed images than could be taken by a single such satellite.

    Ah, and let's throw in, "We're using AI to enhance the images."

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: A Cleanroom?!

      All satellites are assembled in a clean room, but some are cleaner than others. Sensitive optics do require extra cleanliness but every moving part benefits from lack of dust because normal lubricants boil away in vacuum. This site is not just for Kuiper. BO have lobbied their way into the National Security Space Launch market. NSSL launches include high resolution optical satellites and giant radio antennas with many moving parts so they can fold up and fit into the payload faring. This site may (one day in the far distant future) be used to integrate DoD and NRO satellites with BO rockets.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Cleanroom?!

      All satellites are assembled in a clean room.

      It's perfectly normal for all satellites to have optical elements. The satellite needs to point in the right direction. To do that, the satellite first needs to know what direction it is currently pointing in. And there's (effectively) no gravity, so you can't just figure out what is "down".

      So satellites have sun sensors for coarse attitude sensing, and star tracker(s) for precise sensing. Those are not going to take any usable pictures of Earth. The sun sensor just says " the brightest thing is that way". The star tracker is designed to take photos of dim stars, Earth is too bright for the camera and lens used.

      The rocket will have optical sensors for those things too.

      No-one wants random dirt to evaporate in the vacuum and then condense on those sensors.

      Even ignoring the optical elements, no-one wants dirt clogging up the release mechanism between the satellite and the rocket. Or the release mechanism that deploys the solar panels and radio antennas. Or the thruster used to position the satellite. Or the reaction wheels sometimes used to turn the satellite.

  5. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

    Will fail...

    On the corresponding Ars Technical article, someone apparently in the business explained why this will utterly fail. As one commenter here already noted: cart before horse.

    ULA will never provide the necessary launch cadence, their own BE4 are... err, "vaporising ware", might be the appropriate term. JB will die before he buys capacity on SpaceX (if EM even will sell it for any price).

    The numbers simply don't add up. They lack any means to get those thousands of sats up in any reasonable timeframe.

    Competition would be good, but right now RocketLabs has a better chance.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Will fail...

      Not a completely foregone conclusion:

      Amazon also have a contract to launch Kuiper on Ariane 6 rockets. (OK, I should have warned you. When you have finished cleaning off your screen...) You never know, Ariane 6 might get a few launches in before Kuiper's license expires, just like New Glenn (sorry about your screen again). Amazon bought all the unassigned Atlas V rockets. If any Kuiper satellites get built, those will be ready to go - unless delays exceed the sell-by dates for Atlas. In theory, BO can make 8x BE-4 engines per year. Enough for 4 Vulcans or one New Glenn (OK - I am doing this deliberately but by now you know what to expect).

      There are a bunch of startups that may get a medium sized rocket operational. My money is on Rocket Lab too. JB will jump on any of those that work, but as these are at the small end of medium and will need time to scale up the numbers are not there either. JB will only consider SpaceX when all other options are blatantly insufficient. SpaceX do not have the cadence to do Starlink+OneWeb+most of NASA+40% of NSSL+EU and half of Kuiper with Falcon 9. SpaceX would offer any available Falcons and Starships at their advertised prices to avoid awkward questions about monopoly control of the market.

      What is missing is BO's greatest strengths:

      1) Money. Jeff will spend rocket loads of it if required to get into this market

      2) Lobbyists. If anyone can renegotiate Kuiper's license for more time it is this group of outstandingly successful professionals.

      1. Justthefacts Silver badge

        Re: Will fail...

        Broadly agree, except for one thought: “SpaceX do not have the cadence”. That’s true, but Musk doesn’t think like normal companies. I genuinely think he doesn’t worry about profit (stay with me) he just wants to determine the future of the world. That opens up a crazy left-field option. Why not license out Falcon-9, and let another company build them?

        He is known for his contempt for IP: “if you copy us, all you’ve done is ensure that you’re several years behind us, Starship will be so much better”. Licensing income would effectively be free money for SpaceX, if demand exceeds supply.

        But most importantly, he removes the incentive to invest in competitor launcher design. “Licensed Falcon9 builder” would be the second-most valuable space company in the world, plus meet the “sovereign access to space” requirements of several countries, because 95% of the “ jobs” remain in-house. In fact, once Starship finally works, offering the Falcon9 license for free (with strings) is exactly the sort of crazy shit he would pull.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Licensed Falcons

          I am not sure what limits Falcon cadence. One limit is return trips of the drone ships, but SpaceX could always get another one. Another limit is how fast they can build second stages - which is about as fast as drone ships become available. Again SpaceX could increase production resources. Range availability has often looked like a limit, but the US government has increased resources to keep up and has narrowed the corridor reserved for rockets to reduce conflicts with civil aviation. Licensing Falcon 9 to another US company reduces SpaceX's opportunities to launch because both companies would be competing for access to the same ranges.

          There are two ways to expand: launch bigger rockets so satellite constellations require fewer launches or launch from a foreign spaceport. That second is not completely impossible. New Zealand made a proper effort to jump through the required hoops for launching a US rocket. Kourou isn't busy right now but Ariane Space would probably derail any attempt to allow access to a competitor.

          There is also a piece of history that suggests a partnership with SpaceX would end in bankruptcy. Virgin Orbit made a deal with SpaceX: Virgin would operated the aircraft and SpaceX would provide a rocket suitable for launching from under a 747. SpaceX strung Virgin along for years before Virgin caught on and realised they would have to design and build their own rocket. Someone at SpaceX really knows how to shit on potential competitors.

          1. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: Licensed Falcons

            Doubling the cadence using Falcon9 would mean doubling the size of the company in many areas That’s the bottleneck: SpaceX has nearly 10,000 employees, in a company that employed just 160 fifteen years ago. They really don’t want to grow the organisation further. They would just become the same slow blob that all the other companies have become. SpaceX will want to be a focused engineering org that can still innovate and operate like it did seven or eight years ago, and it’s already 5x the size it really wants to be.

            The ideal would be to focus, such that they could launch the same total mass with Starship, with only maybe 1/4 the infrastructure, ie 1/4 the standing army. They do *not* want to be a running a large complex logistics organisation.

            “Ariane Space would probably derail any attempt to allow access to a competitor.” EU payloads are already being launched on Falcon9. If Ariane6 maiden launch fails (a coin-flip, just a reality of new launchers), Ariane are going to be under real pressure. Their customers will launch on Falcon9 vehicles, whoever makes it. They rebadged Soyuz as Ariane. Ariane could be literally forced to accept to manufacture Falcon9 under license as a risk reduction.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Will fail...

          “sovereign access to space”

          Would the US allow SpaceX to licence outside the US? I suspect not, at least in these "early" days.

          1. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: Will fail...

            Airbus Space has a satellite factory in the USA now. Why shouldn’t Ariane? Ariane were more than happy to rebadge the Soyuz as Ariane, until they got caught out by the war. If the first Ariane 6 launch in [Q2 2024?] fails, their customers such as EU Commission will be forced to launch on Falcon9. The only choice Ariane would have is whether to restructure to manufacture it under license, or let SpaceX take the business.

            Whether Ariane6 maiden launch will succeed or not, is a coin-flip. No aspersions on quality, that’s just the reality of a new design.

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Will fail...

      The only way Spaxec get those starlinks up there is because they reuse the first stage and its nine engines

      They now got 2 boosters on 16 flights each.. so new boosters for each of those flights would be 32 boosters and 288 engines having to be built... hmmmm might be a bit of hard work and late shifts to do that, and thats not including all the other first stage boosters on multiple flights.

      As for amazone to use spacex.... given spacex are now doing a flight every 10 days... I doubt they could fit them in....... even if lord high el-presidente of earth musk wanted to.

      Sorry bezosbub, stick with your own rockets... and hope

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Will fail...

        So far this year Falcons have been averaging two launches per week.

        Years ago Boeing (owns half of ULA) overestimated the requirements for the size of their rocket factory. It currently contains a pile of Atlas Vs - enough for seven commercial crew, nine Kuiper and three others. ULA could in theory scale up production of Vulcans which only need two BE-4 engines each. Vulcans can get a respectable payload capacity using strap on solid rocket boosters. Old rocket tech used to launch reconnaissance satellites twice a month - because they kept running out of film.

        There are three clear limits to how fast ULA can launch Kuiper satellites: supply of Kuiper satelllites, supply of BE-4 engines and the amount ULA invests in supporting a high cadence.

        Jeff has to work on the first two but the third is a killer. Boeing and Lockheed have always treated ULA as a cash cow. They have put in the absolute minimum R&D funds to keep the company up to date. (They are good at lobbying for government handouts for this sort of cash.) Long term, Kuiper will be launched on New Glenn and ULA will be competing to be one of the two NSSL suppliers against SpaceX and Blue. If Jeff wants to get Kuiper in place with Vulcans then he would have to pay for infrastructure that provides the required cadence himself. The insane thing is he can afford it.

        I think his time and money would be better spent on making Blue Origin into a launch company that actually builds and launches stuff - or he could buy ULA.

  6. xyz Silver badge

    Get Prime, Get Prime...

    Do you think Amazon can line up its constellation to so it looks like that and flashes it every 5 mins?

    Anyhoo... I've just had a whatsapp video call with my GF (she's in England and I'm in Spain) and I'm using Starlink, running off solar panels from the middle of a forested nature reserve. You've got to love this stuff... unless you're a telescope "polisher" obviously.

  7. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

    Irony deficit disorder

    Clearly JB can't see the hypocrisy of memorialising a Dutch astronomer by naming after him a swarm of satellites that, had it been there in the 90s, would have rendered discovery of his predictions so much more difficult.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Terrible choice of a name at so many levels

      Kuiper's name is already indelibly attached to the collection of deep orbit astronomical bodies that form the outer band of object in the solar system.

      Bozos is naming a train of LEO communications satellites after something in the highest orbits in our system, and the name is in use.

      Now for the foreseeable future everyone will have to clarify if they are talking about the place KBO's hang out most of the time(some orbits are eccentric that way), or a brat billionaires platform for sustaining his ego and dick measuring contest with a bigger billionaire who is also a giant dick.

      Say what you will about Starlink and its negative impact on astronomy, at least it's name was free and mostly suggests what it does.

  8. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward

    Great. More space junk.

    Why don't they rather build a Dyson Sphere instead?

    1. ScottishYorkshireMan

      Leave him making vacuum cleaners...

      Leave him to his vacuum cleaners and hand dryers and of course his brexit.

      Sorry couldn't resist.

      Go ahead, mark me down, don't care.

  9. hammarbtyp

    The future's bright

    Soon there will be so many satellites we will have to re-evaluate Olbers' paradox

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