Amazon bought Facebook’s satellite team to help build a Starlink competitor

Illustration of a rocket in space with the Amazon logo.
Enlarge / Image posted by Amazon when it announced an agreement with the United Launch Alliance to use launch vehicles for the Kuiper Project.

Facebook sold its small satellite Internet division to Amazon and said it has no plans to become an Internet service provider. Amazon and Facebook confirmed the sale to Ars today.

Information first reported that “Amazon has acquired a team of more than a dozen wireless Internet experts from Facebook in an effort to jump-start its multi-million dollar effort to launch thousands of satellites … The workers are in the Los Angeles area and included physicists and opticians, prototype, mechanical and software engineers who had previously worked on aeronautical systems and wireless networks, according to their LinkedIn pages. ” One of them is Jin Bains, who is now a Director of the Amazon Kuiper Project. Employees reportedly moved to Amazon in April.

Facebook applied to the FCC for permission to launch a low-Earth orbit satellite in 2018, but the company called it a small research and development experiment and did not publicly commit to offering an internet service. Today, Facebook said that “it has not been our plan to launch a constellation of satellites, to become an ISP, mobile operator or technology provider. We have long believed that satellite technology will enable the next generation of broadband infrastructure, and As part of our ongoing connectivity efforts, this team focused on designing and testing new ways to advance satellite connectivity using optical communications and radio frequency systems and solutions. We are truly proud of the work this team has accomplished and we are excited to see what will continue to build [at Amazon]. “

Amazon to launch satellites in 2023 or later

Amazon plans a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink service, but Amazon’s “Project Kuiper” is far behind the SpaceX venture. Amazon confirmed to Ars that it “acquired a small number of employees from Facebook’s connectivity team and that the team moved to Amazon earlier this year to work on Project Kuiper.” Amazon declined to say more about what employees will be working on within Kuiper.

SpaceX is already serving more than 10,000 beta users with more than 1,500 satellites, and the company says it will have near-global coverage in August. Amazon has US approval to launch 3,236 low-Earth orbit satellites and says it plans to invest more than $ 10 billion in the project. But the company has not said exactly when it will launch satellites or offer service. Amazon has said it has more than 500 employees working on the Kuiper project, and its website lists more than 200 vacancies in the division.

Amazon told Ars last month that 2023 is the earliest it expects to launch satellites. FCC rules give Amazon six years to launch and operate 50 percent of its licensed satellites, which means the company needs to launch 1,618 satellites by July 30, 2026. Amazon would have to launch the rest of the satellites licensed by July 30, 2029. Amazon told the FCC that it plans to offer broadband to customers after launching the first 578 satellites.

After selling its satellite equipment, Facebook said today that it will continue to “work with our satellite operator partners to expand connectivity via Wi-Fi” and noted its partnership with Eutelsat in a project in sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook said it is involved in other collaborations such as the Telecommunications infrastructure project and that “we believe that these infrastructure investments will have a positive impact on the satellite industry, particularly as they work to expand connectivity to difficult-to-reach rural areas.”

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