Top Stories
Top Stories
Investing in Space

Amazon wants to launch thousands of satellites so it can offer broadband internet from space

Key Points
  • "Project Kuiper" is Amazon's plan to launch 3,236 satellites to build a network to provide global high-speed internet.
  • The move represents the latest space ambition from Jeff Bezos.
  • There's a race among several major players to build a next-generation broadband network in space, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and SoftBank-backed OneWeb.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin LLC, speaks at a space symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 12, 2016.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon is planning to build a network of more than 3,000 satellites federal filings reveal, in an ambitious attempt to provide global internet access.

Known as Project Kuiper, the move represents the latest space ambition from Jeff Bezos. Amazon has previously announced its cloud business will build a network of satellite facilities on Earth and Bezos' space venture Blue Origin continues to move closer to launching space tourists.

"Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world," an Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed statement.

VIDEO1:3701:37
Jeff Bezos keeps control of Amazon in his divorce agreement

"This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision."

Amazon's proposal is for a network of 3,236 satellites. Building, launching and operating the satellites will require intensive capital, likely billions of dollars. But Bezos has already been funding Blue Origin with upwards of $1 billion a year and Amazon itself remains one of the world's most valuable companies. GeekWire first reported the filings on Thursday.

Kuiper is the name of a belt of objects that include asteroids and dwarf planets. It was named for the late Dutch American astronomer Gerard Kuiper.

Source: NASA

A race among several major players is underway to build a next-generation broadband network in space, as companies lay out plans to use a so-called constellation of hundreds or even thousands of small satellites. Elon Musk's SpaceX launched two test satellites for its "Starlink" network last year, the first step toward its goal of a constellation of 4,425 satellites. Additionally, last month Softbank-backed OneWeb launched the first six satellites of its network, which plans to begin with a constellation of 650 interconnected satellites.

Boeing and Canadian operator Telesat have also revealed plans for high speed internet constellations.

OneWeb's satellites cost about $1 million each to manufacture and the start-up plans to launch all of 650 over the next two years, with rockets lifting 30 at a time.

The SpaceX Starlink satellites were some of the smallest proposed, weighing just under 900 pounds each.

While the federal filings do not reveal the cost or timeline of Amazon's project, industry analysts estimate Project Kuiper will take about a decade to get off the ground. This road is littered with companies that tried, and failed, to pull off a coup in space-based internet.

Back in 2015, Facebook decided against spending up to $1 billion on a satellite that would provide Internet to under-served regions in Africa and other continents. Instead, Facebook opted to lease broadband onboard Spacecom's AMOS-6 satellite, which was destroyed when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded during fueling before launch in 2016.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates helped fund Teledesic, in an effort to build low Earth satellites to provide Internet service. Yet Teledesic closed in 2002, after racking up more than $9 billion costs.

But the possible pay off for Amazon and others could be immense. Beyond the benefit it would provide to Amazon's own business, satellite networks with internet speeds comparable to Earth-bound fiber optic networks would be very lucrative.

– CNBC's Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.

VIDEO18:0018:00
How SpaceX started and what's next for Elon Musk's Mars dream