Amazon’s Competitor to Musk’s Starlink Takes Critical Step Toward Deployment

Project Kuiper's optical mesh network in low Earth orbit
Project Kuiper's optical mesh network in low Earth orbit (Image Credit: Project Kuiper/YouTube)

Amazon’s Kuiper low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network passed a significant milestone when its two orbiting satellites were able to communicate with each other at high data transfer speeds using Optical Inter-Satellite Link (OISL) technology, the company revealed last week.

OISL is a key component of Kuiper’s mesh architecture, which uses infrared lasers to send data between satellites. According to Amazon, it was able to maintain a stable connection between the two prototype satellites at a data transfer speed of 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) and a distance of 621 miles.

These tests validated the final component of Project Kuiper’s advanced communications architecture, and the results ensure that OISLs will be operational on our first production satellites, slated for launch in the first half of 2024, the company stated on its online news site.

“With optical inter-satellite links across our satellite constellation, Project Kuiper will effectively operate as a mesh network in space,” Project Kuiper’s Vice President of Technology Rajeev Badyal said in a statement.

By creating a mesh network in space, Amazon explained that it will be able to increase throughput and reduce latency across the Kuiper constellation and provide users of the network more flexibility to connect to it across land, sea, air, and space.

“Satellite-to-satellite communication is where there’s often a bottleneck,” said Peter Chahal, network and telecommunications research director at IDC, a global market and research firm.

“By having this optical mesh, it will allow Amazon to address latency issues,” he told TechNewsWorld. “By having optical inter-satellite connectivity, it’ll maintain better performance and lower latency.”

Leveraging AWS

Amazon noted that another benefit of using OISLs is the speed at which data can be moved around the world. Light travels faster in space than it does through glass, which means that Kuiper’s orbital laser mesh network can transfer data approximately 30% faster than if it traveled the equivalent distance via terrestrial fiber optic cables, it explained.

Project Kuiper will also benefit from Amazon’s AWS service and infrastructure. “Not only does Amazon have OISL between satellites, but it will have ground stations in close proximity to Amazon data centers so it can maintain low latency and high performance on the network from space to the terrestrial ground stations,” Chahal said.

Compared to Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink LEO satellite network, which uses a point-to-point architecture, Kuiper is very complex. To maintain the strength of the laser links in the system, light spread needs to be minimized over distances up to 1,616 miles. Then, the connection needs to be maintained between spacecraft moving at speeds of up to 15,534 miles per hour — and all of that has to be achieved while compensating for satellite and flight dynamics.

The payoff to all that complexity, Amazon maintains, is the ability to move and land data anywhere via the space mesh network, bringing secure, resilient connectivity to a wide range of the company’s enterprise and public sector customers.

This capability is especially important for customers operating in regions without a nearby ground station, such as a cruise liner in the middle of the ocean or an aircraft making a transatlantic flight, Amazon explained, while allowing them to securely uplink data from effectively any location on Earth, transmit it through space via laser communications, and downlink it to their destination of choice.

Good November for Kuiper

“Amazon’s optical mesh network will provide multiple paths to route data through space, creating resiliency and redundancy for customers who need to securely transport information around the world,” Kuiper Government Solutions Vice President Ricky Freeman said in a statement.

“This is especially important for those looking to avoid communications architectures that can be intercepted or jammed,” he continued, “and we look forward to making these capabilities available to public sector customers looking to move and land data from remote locations to their desired destination.”

Amazon’s disclosure of its OISL success capped a series of milestones Kuiper achieved in November.

“Successful tests have showcased the first two-way video call, Ultra HD 4K video streaming from Amazon Prime Video, and the first-ever purchase conducted over Amazon’s Kuiper SatCom network,” Analyst Victor Xu wrote in a report for ABI Research, a global technology intelligence firm.

“These tests have validated all systems and subsystems on board Project Kuiper’s prototype satellites,” he continued, “and have marked a substantial step forward for the Kuiper mega-constellation, which is a planned constellation of 3,236 low Earth orbit satellites.”

He added that ABI anticipated that the global satellite broadband market will generate service revenues of about US$18.5 billion by 2030, representing a 13.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2022 to 2030.

“The future of delivering the Internet will look very different from what we have been using,” said technology analyst Jeff Kagan.

“Satellite internet connectivity will play an increasingly important role in society,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It will deliver service to areas that have none, and it will offer a competitive choice in areas where there are limited options.”

Bezos Burger Bar

Successes aside, Kuiper still has a long way to go to catch up to Starlink, which already has 5,420 satellites orbiting the Earth. “You could say that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk share the same dream; the difference is that Elon Musk has already delivered what Jeff Bezos dreams of,” John Strand, of Strand Consult, a consulting firm with a focus on telecom, in Denmark, told TechNewsWorld.

“Jeff Bezos has opened his first burger bar. Elon Musk owns McDonald’s,” he quipped.

“If you look further down the road, Starlink has the advantage,” he said. “They have access to cheap lifting capacity — the capacity that is the foundation for setting these satellites up in space.”

He added that Starlink’s volume of satellites gives it an edge not only in space but on the ground, too. “When you look at the regulatory challenges that affect this industry, Starlink’s volume will make it be seen by the authorities in many countries as an important alternative provider of vital infrastructure,” he said. “This gives them better access to national regulators.”

“It’s great that Amazon is developing and trying new technology,” he continued. “Competition is healthy for the market, but I don’t think Kuiper is something that’s spoiling the sleep of the folks at Starlink.”

John P. Mello Jr.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by John P. Mello Jr.
More in Space

Technewsworld Channels