Retail giant Amazon has asked the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to launch more than 3000 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) to provide broadband to underserved parts of the world.
The firm’s plans to provide broadband internet from space were revealed in April when GeekWire reported that it had submitted three sets of filings with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Kuiper Systems, a subsidiary of Amazon, has filed its application with the FCC. According to the filing, the 3236 satellites will be placed in a satellite constellation of 98 different orbital planes with altitudes ranging from 589 to 629km above the surface of the Earth.
The satellites will use Ka band frequencies, which allows for high bandwidth satellite communication. This band will be used in the James Webb Space Telescope and the Iridium Next telecommunications satellite series.
Satellite internet remains expensive, but allows for wide access, high data speeds, and provides reasonably low latency for satellites in LEO.
Amazon states that its satellite constellation could bridge the digital divide by providing connectivity to rural and other underserved parts of the world, helping tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband Internet.
However, Amazon has requested a waiver on a requirement to serve the entirety of the US, as its proposed satellite constellation would not cover some parts of Alaska.
It has also marketed Kuiper as a means for providing mobile LTE, connectivity to underserved areas.
Amazon seeks to maximise the potential of spectrum and orbital resources available to advanced NGSO broadband constellations, providing high quality broadband service to customers while simultaneously enhancing spectrum efficiency and spectrum sharing with other authorised systems,” the Amazon filing says.
The satellite constellation will be able to use existing infrastructure such as data centres and fibre which is used to support Amazon Web Services (AWS).
No timeline for launch was included in the FCC filing, although Kuiper Systems has said that satellite broadband could be offered soon after the first launch phase, which will involve a batch of over 500 satellites. The satellites are likely to be launched by rockets developed Blue Origin, which is funded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
While satellite constellations have attracted concern due to their potential to contribute to space debris, Amazon has stated that the satellites would be set to deorbit themselves in less than 10 years.
An attempt by Microsoft to create a constellation of LEO satellites in the Ka band was abandoned in 2003, after mounting costs of more than $9bn. Microsoft’s failure dampened enthusiasm for similar ventures for the next decade, but a small handful of companies have recently entered the race to provide broadband internet via satellite constellation.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been given permission by the FCC to deploy up to 7000 satellites and has already launched 60, while OneWeb and Facebook have laid out plans to build satellite constellations for the same purpose.