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Blue Origin's massive New Glenn rocket was picked to launch Telesat's internet satellites into space, the companies announced Thursday. Together, the companies are competing against Tesla CEO Elon Musk's SpaceX, which is launching thousands of satellites into space that will send internet back to earth.
Mobile broadband services don't reach about 14 million rural Americans, as well as 1.2 million Americans on tribal lands, according to the FCC. There are satellites, like those of Hughes Communications and ViaSat, that provide residential broadband connections. But Telesat is looking to take that a step further, aiming to offer "fiber-like" internet connections to both residential and mobile customers.
"This partnership, along with New Glenn's selection by the U.S. Air Force for a launch services agreement, gives New Glenn the opportunity to demonstrate its heavy-lift and volume capabilities to civil, commercial and national security customers when it begins launching in 2021," Telesat CEO Bob Smith said.
Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket has a large payload capacity that will help Telesat lower the cost of deploying its satellites, the company said, and the deal is one of the most recent wins by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' rocket firm.
In September, the Blue Origin received a contract to supply its BE-4 engine for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket. ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, competes with SpaceX for military contracts. In October, the U.S. Air Force awarded Blue Origin $500 million to develop its New Glenn Rocket.
Bezos is investing heavily in Blue Origin, pouring about $1 billion of his Amazon stock into the rocket venture each year. In a speech last September, Bezos said he plans to increase that annual investment even more in 2019.
Musk's SpaceX is also working to beam internet to earth. Its "Starlink" network of satellites will be launched from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. In March, the FCC granted SpaceX approval to provide broadband services from its satellite constellation, and the company says it plans to send 4,425 satellites into space starting this year. Speeds are expected to be on a par with fiber optic networks.
Telesat and Space Norway also have approvals from the FCC to operate similar networks.