Amazon features a flat panel buyer destination for the Kuiper constellation

WASHINGTON – Amazon has tested what it describes as a low-cost horizontal panel antenna for use with the Project Kuiper constellation, a device that may be critical to the long-term success of satellite broadband.

Amazon Dec. 16 announced that it has developed a Ka-band array antenna that is much smaller and cheaper than traditional antennas that operate at these frequencies. The antenna will eventually be part of the destinations used by Kuiper broadband services customers.

A key element of the design is the transfer of terminal transmissions and receiving antennas. Because transmission and reception frequencies in Ka-band are far apart, the two antennas are traditionally separate, increasing the size and weight of the entire system. In Amazon’s system, the transmitting and receiving antennas are superimposed on top of each other in a disk about 30 centimeters across.

That’s possible, a company chief executive said, because of the nature of how consumer broadband works. “We were able to take advantage of some of the nurses’ use of broadband,” said David Limp, senior vice president of tools and services at Amazon, at a Dec. 16 presentation at conference TC Sessions: Space. “There is a sexual inconsistency in how people use broadband, as they get much more than they send. ”

“The team was able, in a quick way, to take over Rx and Tx – get and put – in the same field. By doing so, we were able to reduce the antenna size, reuse parts and reduce costs, ”he said. The company also designs anonymous modifications to the antennas on the satellites to enhance the performance of the depots.

Amazon has tested a prototype of the antenna, featuring a bandwidth of 400 megabits per second. The antenna also received 4K video streamed from a satellite in geostationary orbit. “It simply came to our notice then. You don’t expect your first design to meet the original requirements, and it did, ”said Limp.

A horizontal panel antenna that can be retracted in high volume and relatively low costs has become one of the biggest challenges of satellite megaconstellations. Electronically guided beam antennas are essential for anonymous communication with satellites while in and out of sight. While the technology has been proven, these antennas are expensive too.

SpaceX is offering beta testers of its Starlink service a terminal that includes an antenna and router for $ 499. However, industry watchers, including competing company officials , thought an antenna could cost up to four times as much.

“Kuiper’s goal is to ultimately serve, we hope, tens of millions of broadband customers completely or without service,” Limp said. “To scale to those numbers, it has to be affordable.”

He said the new messenger antenna is significantly cheaper than conventional “modern” panel antennas. “We set a goal for that that just couldn’t be 10 or 20 per cent cheaper,” he said. “We were looking for 5 to 10 [times] cost reduction, and we have a path to that now. “

It did not, however, offer specific targets about antenna cost or what Amazon will charge customers for it. “I don’t know what end users will cost. We may make that decision the day before launch. That’s usually Amazon’s pricing strategy. ”

Launch agnostic

These antennas communicate with a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit. The Kuiper Project was authorized by the Federal Communications Commission on July 30, an agreement that requires at least half of the satellites to be in orbit at Amazon by July 2026 and the entire constellation in place by July 2029.

“We are in the middle of our design phase” for the satellite system, said Limp. That includes approaches to enable high-satellite production: about one satellite per day to produce the 3,236 satellites in less than nine years. “That gives you a rethink not just on how you think about designing the satellite itself, but how you manufacture it.”

Amazon has yet to announce launch contracts for Project Kuiper. It is a widespread business belief that Blue Origin has the in-house to launch these satellites, owned by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive. Blue Origin executives have objected to the expectation that they will have to compete for Project Kuiper launch contracts, as they would for any other potential customer. .

Limp said Amazon does not intend to rely on Blue Origin, or any other launch provider, for the use of its constellation. “We’re launching an agnostic,” he said. “If anyone out there has a rocket, let us know.”

He said one factor that went into Amazon’s decision to spend at least $ 10 billion on Project Kuiper is the changing launch market, with greater capacity and lower prices. Ten years ago, he said, “you wouldn’t have clarified a project like Kuiper, because these dynamics in launch capability, rationality, etc., make it a lot more feasible.”

“Do I hope Blue Origin can launch some capability? Yes, ”he said. “But I hope others do too.”