Sunday, February 5, 2023
Feb. 5, 2023

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Amazon to open new Kirkland plant to build Project Kuiper satellites


Amazon is opening a new production facility in Kirkland to build satellites for Project Kuiper, a program that the company says will help increase broadband access around the world.

Through Project Kuiper, Amazon plans to launch more than 3,000 satellites into low Earth orbit in order to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband to homes, schools, hospitals and businesses in places that don’t currently have reliable internet connectivity.

Amazon launched the initiative in 2019 and opened a 219,000-square-foot research and development center in Redmond in 2020. On Thursday, the company announced plans for a new 172,000-square-foot facility dedicated to manufacturing the 3,236 satellites it will need.

Its Redmond center helped create prototypes and begin commercial satellite production but wasn’t able to build at scale, Amazon said in a blog post Thursday. The new Kirkland location will allow the company to build up to four satellites per day.

“The best way to get internet to folks, or to get broadband capability to these communities, is from space,” said Rajeev Badyal, the vice president of technology for the program.

Once in orbit, Project Kuiper’s satellites will be able to cover the land from “the edge of Argentina, all the way up” to Glasgow, Scotland, Badyal said.

So far, Project Kuiper has determined the architecture and design of the satellites and answered the question, “Hey, how do you produce this thing?” at its Redmond research and development center, Badyal said. The next step is to put production in action at its new Kirkland location.

Amazon says it will begin transitioning people and equipment into the new facility early next year and then ramp up to full production over the following months. The new facility will create 200 highly skilled aerospace and manufacturing jobs. Project Kuiper overall employs more than 1,300 people.

Amazon chose to open its manufacturing facility close to its research and development hub to ensure “close coordination,” the company said in its blog post.

It’s part of a growing space hub in the Puget Sound region, including some of its competitors who are also working to build a satellite network to increase broadband access. Elon Musk’s SpaceX opened a Redmond office in 2015 for its Starlink project, another satellite constellation that aims to increase internet access. SpaceX has launched nearly 3,000 broadband satellites into orbit.

“Our state’s pioneering spirit has revolutionized aerospace,” Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet said in Amazon’s announcement. “Kirkland is proud to continue this tradition.”

Project Kuiper’s first two prototype satellites will launch in early 2023, Amazon said Thursday. The satellites will launch on a rocket from United Launch Alliance, a spacecraft launch service provider based in Colorado.

Amazon has secured up to 92 launches from three companies: ULA, French commercial launch service Arianespace and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Those contracts will provide enough capacity to deploy the majority of Project Kuiper’s satellite network.

The company’s license with the Federal Communications Commission requires Project Kuiper to have 1,600 satellites in space by mid-2026.

Along with Blue Origin, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, Amazon joined a White House-led coalition in September to help build the country’s commercial space workforce. It will focus on space-related STEM initiatives to prepare the next generation of workers.