Amazon to set up $120 million Space Coast shop in competition with SpaceX’s Starlink

21 July 2023

Richard Tribou | Orlando Sentinel

MERRITT ISLAND, Florida — Amazon and Jeff Bezos have big plans to launch thousands of satellites from the Space Coast in an effort to play catchup and compete with Elon Musk and SpaceX’s Starlink service. To speed up the process, it’s going to build a $120 million facility to prep those satellites just miles from the launch pad.

The company announced it has agreed to expand into Florida with its Project Kuiper, the name for its future broadband satellite network, by setting up a 100,000-square-foot processing facility at a nearly 80-acre site at the former Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

The deal brokered by Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, promises as many as 50 jobs with an average salary of $80,000 as well as 300 jobs during construction.

It marks the first major commercial foray into what’s now called the Launch and Landing Facility, which is managed by Space Florida under a 30-year property agreement with NASA. Space Florida had been touting the announcement as Project Comet with a mystery tenant.

“This partnership not only fuels Florida’s reputation as the gateway to space but also accelerates Space Florida’s mission to transform the Launch and Landing Facility into the premier location for aerospace innovation,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, chair for Space Florida’s board of directors.

Amazon’s arrival marks a rebound for Space Florida after initial plans for the site announced in 2021 fell through. It was going to be home to Terran Orbital for what Gov. Ron DeSantis said would be the “largest satellite manufacturing facility in the entire world,” but that company shifted plans to California.

The Amazon facility is smaller, as it won’t be constructing satellites at the site, but instead bringing them in for finishing touches before launch at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

“We have an ambitious plan to begin Project Kuiper’s full-scale production launches and early customer pilots next year, and this new facility will play a critical role in helping us deliver on that timeline,” said Amazon’s Steve Metayer, vice president of Kuiper Production Operations.

Last year Amazon revealed plans to send up the majority of what is planned to be a constellation of 3,236 broadband satellites across up to 92 launches over five years. Launch service providers will include United Launch Alliance, Arianespace and Bezos’ other space venture Blue Origin, which is constructing its New Glenn rocket just down the road.

ULA will get the lion’s share of those launches, including nine of its remaining stable of Atlas V rockets and 38 of its in-development Vulcan Centaur rocket. Bezos’ Blue Origin makes the engines that power Vulcan Centaur’s first stage as well.

The first two developmental satellites for Project Kuiper are awaiting Vulcan Centaur’s first launch, which was recently delayed to no earlier than October this year on a mission dubbed Certification-1 as ULA has to finish qualification testing on the new rocket’s upper stage.

Most ULA launches will come from the Cape’s Space Launch Complex 41. Blue Origin’s New Glenn, meanwhile, is not expected to fly until late 2024 at the earliest while Arianespace has seen delays of its new Ariane 6 rocket as well. So ULA and the Space Coast will be ground zero for Project Kuiper’s initial orbital flights.

Mass production of the satellites will begin before the end of 2023 at Amazon’s new plant in Kirkland, Washington. At the Space Coast facility satellites will be attached to small in-orbit positional spacecraft built by partner Beyond Gravity.

The ready-to-fly satellites will be then be loaded into the ULA or Blue Origin payload fairings in the facility’s 100-foot-tall high bay clean room before venturing to their launch pads.

Amazon’s goal is to build out a satellite network to rival SpaceX’s Starlink and other low-Earth orbit constellations for fast, affordable broadband around the world. SpaceX has been launching operational versions of its Starlink satellites since 2019 and has to date put into orbit more than 4,800 with the OK from the Federal Communications Commission to grow to as many as 7,500.

Amazon is footing the majority of the building costs but is receiving matching grants from the Florida Department of Transportation as part of FDOT’s Spaceport Improvement Program. Space Florida will act as landlord and helped to clear the path for the commercial infrastructure by investing $63.8 million so far from the spaceport program to help build an adequate utility corridor so companies can basically come in, plug in and go about their business.

The amount of Amazon’s lease was not disclosed.

“Since the early days of rocket launches and payload processing, decades of infrastructure and capital investment has been made, transforming Florida into a global center for the aerospace economy,” said Space Florida CEO and President Frank DiBello.

DiBello, who has headed up the agency since 2009 and is set to retire once his replacement is chosen, earlier this year said Space Florida had brokered deals that added $2.7 billion worth of state infrastructure since 2011. The agency’s goal is to increase that number to $10 billion by the end of the decade, and Amazon’s foray into Brevard helps push it closer to that goal.

“Adding Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite payload processing facility to the region’s growing industrial capability in commercial space is a testament to the power of building a statewide ecosystem that supports companies across the entire aerospace supply chain,” he said.

©2023 Orlando Sentinel. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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