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Kuiper Lives!

Cosmacelf

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Other than an FCC submission, and attempted interference against Starlink, we hadn't seen much action over at Amazon's Kuiper project (what a bad name, BTW). But now, we have ... a contract for launch services awarded to Blue Origin on New Glenn. Uh, wait a minute, (checks notes) I mean, ULA on an Atlas V.

Huh. Go figure that one of ULA's only commercial contracts would come from a barely operational company that may never get off the ground, so to speak.

And as for Amazon not even selecting Bezos' own rocket, isn't that just, like really embarrassing?

 

bxr140

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and attempted interference against Starlink

Correction: Attempt to ensure Starlink doesn't completely monopolize AND box out competition from physical space and spectrum. One of the responsibilities in owning spectrum for space communications is a pledge to good faith negotiate with other entities who plan to use that spectrum.

When good faith discussions break down...

Then there's this issue that was the buzz two weeks ago, thankfully it was ultimately [painted as] a success story. More importantly, it highlights how imperative collaboration/dialogue is between entities sharing Space; if someone doesn't want to play nice it is bad for everyone.

we hadn't seen much action over at Amazon's Kuiper project

Correction: We haven't seen Starlink level PR communications from Kuiper. Anyone who's been paying attention even in public domain would know what kind of positions they've been hiring, would recently they revealed their UT which clearly has been in development for some time, and would generally understand where Kuiper is in the program. Its just that those nuggets of information wouldn't have come from a tweet.

Go figure that one of ULA's only commercial contracts would come from a barely operational company that may never get off the ground, so to speak.

On the flip side, as noted in another post on this matter this is strong indication that Kuiper is serious about getting on orbit sooner rather than later, otherwise they'd be waiting for NG or whoever else. From Kuiper's perspective Atlas 5 is just about the best solution for getting operational on the order of a few years (first launch is probably 2023?). Certainly F9 is the notional best choice for anyone, but we don't know what has transpired between Kuiper and SpaceX/F9--its very possible Kuiper didn't talk to SpaceX for fear of technology appropriation, its possible Kuiper didn't talk to Space for fear of being under the thumb of Elon, its very possible that SpaceX no-bid Kuiper in order to set back what's shaping up to be the most real competition to Starlink.

What's left? Atlas, Ariane, Proton, and H2, plus some rockets in development (NG, A6, Vulcan) and a bunch more sketches (Neutron, Terran R, etc).

Ariane 5, while a big and reliable lifter, does not have the historical manifest volume required for the Kuiper contract, and even though Ariane is down on launches recently, they're not way down such that [their history shows] they could accomodate many Kuiper launches with the requisite frequency. Ariane is also very keen to get A6 up and running, and for a company in Kuiper's position that's a bit of a risk.

Proton has a litany of reliability, logistical, performance, and sociopolitical problems. I think we can all agree on that one...

H2 launches a couple times a year and only when it pleases the Japanese fishing industry (to be clear, that's no longer actually true), so they're out.

So that leaves Atlas, which has a history of supporting this kind of volume AND has the manifest availability that Kuiper needs (largely because everyone is transitioning to SpaceX). There have been many years of 8-10 AV launches and volume these days is half that. Price is crap but clearly Amazon can afford it, and of course Atlas' reliability is an upside.

Somewhat tin hat (but also quite plausible), at the Jeff level there may also be a knock on effect where the influx of money into ULA enhances/accelerates Vulcan development, which of course has a circular ROI because of BE-4.

And as for Amazon not even selecting Bezos' own rocket, isn't that just, like really embarrassing?

Maybe? Honestly I doubt Jeff cares much. If he cared we would have seen a material pivot from Blue 5 years ago. He/Aamzon is in Kuiper for the money. How the money comes doesn't really matter. And...let's face it, from a business perspective it would be irresponsible for both entities to couple their success/progress to each other. This isn't the singularity of Elon once again betting the farm (Starlink + Starship). Its clear this 9 launch contract with ULA is intended to get a constellation operational over the next few years; its been both planned and obvious for years that NG would not be able to support this kind of timeline.

It also makes a lot of sense to have a launcher agnostic payload, or at least a payload that is multi-launcher capable. It allows one to better react to groundings and also improves the rate at which mass can be lifted. In fact, if we're looking long term, its easy to imagine a follow-on contract between Kuiper and ULA. NG is going to have some ramp-up rate (not to mention plenty of teething issues) and ULA will enable Kuiper to continue filling out its constellation. At some point Kuiper can continue ULA's launch rate (ostensibly with Vulcan, again paying back at the Jeff level) which would basically accelerate their constellation deployment, or they can pull back on the ULA rate as the NG rate ramps up.

Having options and off/onramps is a sound commercial strategy in any industry, let alone the space biz.

One barely needs to scratch the surface on this one to realize it's an outstanding move for Kuiper.
 
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Cosmacelf

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Correction: Attempt to ensure Starlink doesn't completely monopolize AND box out competition from physical space and spectrum. One of the responsibilities in owning spectrum for space communications is a pledge to good faith negotiate with other entities who plan to use that spectrum.

"and attempted interference against Starlink" is still an accurate statement, regardless of your spin/explanation.

Correction: We haven't seen Starlink level PR communications from Kuiper. Anyone who's been paying attention even in public domain would know what kind of positions they've been hiring, would recently they revealed their UT which clearly has been in development for some time, and would generally understand where Kuiper is in the program. Its just that those nuggets of information wouldn't have come from a tweet.

Correction (did I do that right?): Amazon did not reveal their UT, they revealed an engineering prototype of their UT (Amazon Unveils Project Kuiper Antenna Design - Via Satellite -). As someone keeps pointing out, making a prototype is easy, manufacturing at scale is hard.

Certainly F9 is the notional best choice for anyone, but we don't know what has transpired between Kuiper and SpaceX/F9--its very possible Kuiper didn't talk to SpaceX for fear of technology appropriation, its possible Kuiper didn't talk to Space for fear of being under the thumb of Elon, its very possible that SpaceX no-bid Kuiper in order to set back what's shaping up to be the most real competition to Starlink.

Well, unless Shotwell is lying, SpaceX did not no-bid Amazon. Or at least that's the implication based on her statement that SpaceX would happily launch other constellations.

He/Aamzon is in Kuiper for the money.

How true. Here's how I expect Kuiper to go. They'll just follow what Virgin did with Galactic. Spin out Kuiper early before it is apparent that real revenue isn't materializing, and then sell their stake. Amazon makes a little bit of money and walks away from the mess.

You do realize I was mostly just having fun with my first post, right?

But, whatever. Competition is good and makes everyone raise their game.
 

scaesare

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... we don't know what has transpired between Kuiper and SpaceX/F9--its very possible Kuiper didn't talk to SpaceX for fear of technology appropriation, its possible Kuiper didn't talk to Space for fear of being under the thumb of Elon, its very possible that SpaceX no-bid Kuiper in order to set back what's shaping up to be the most real competition to Starlink.
I find it interesting that immediately after admitting we don't know what transpired, the 3 scenarios you chose to postulate all paint SpaceX in a bad light (SpaceX might steal technology, Elon would somehow be oppressive, SpaceX attempted to deny service to the competition).

Strange you weren't inclined to suggest anything like "maybe Bezos didn't want to underscore the superiority of SpaceX's launch capability over BO's"
 
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Cosmacelf

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Compared to reusable Falcon 9s owned by SpaceX, those Atlas ride are going to be pretty expensive I'd imagine. I wonder if they are placeholders till Blue Origin gets into orbit so they can get a start on the FCC required launches?

It is odd. Since Bezos is CEO of Amazon, you know he knows the scoop on when New Glenn will fly. This is the best indication we have that New Glenn isn't going to be available probably in the next two years even if that.

I suspect these aren't placeholders, they will actually fly on Atlas V. I mean, it would be very misleading for public companies to announce $500M orders like this and then not follow through. ULA shareholders are presumably counting on the revenue now.
 
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It is odd. Since Bezos is CEO of Amazon, you know he knows the scoop on when New Glenn will fly. This is the best indication we have that New Glenn isn't going to be available probably in the next two years even if that.

I suspect these aren't placeholders, they will actually fly on Atlas V. I mean, it would be very misleading for public companies to announce $500M orders like this and then not follow through. ULA shareholders are presumably counting on the revenue now.
By "placeholders" I meant getting some satellites into orbit to get started on the FCC requirements. I've no doubt they will fly on the Atlas's. My point is just that Blue Origin isn't going to be ready for awhile and they need to get some satellites up. After this batch I suspect they plan to switch to New Glenn, but in the meantime, this is going to be expensive.
 

bxr140

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"and attempted interference against Starlink" is still an accurate statement, regardless of your spin/explanation.

If by "accurate" you mean "highly misleading", then yes, we can come to an agreement here. 😉

Correction (did I do that right?): Amazon did not reveal their UT, they revealed an engineering prototype of their UT

If by "right" you mean "overt attempt at misdirection through pedantry", then yes, I concede your point. :cool:

Well, unless Shotwell is lying, SpaceX did not no-bid Amazon. Or at least that's the implication based on her statement that SpaceX would happily launch other constellations.

That's quite a stretch. "No Bid" does not mean "didn't talk". (To be clear, we don't know in public domain whether they did or did not talk). Its very pluausible Amazon's terms were incompatible with SpaceX's terms, for instance, leading to SpaceX no-bidding the project.

I find it interesting that immediately after admitting we don't know what transpired, the 3 scenarios you chose to postulate all paint SpaceX in a bad light (SpaceX might steal technology, Elon would somehow be oppressive, SpaceX attempted to deny service to the competition).

Strange you weren't inclined to suggest anything like "maybe Bezos didn't want to underscore the superiority of SpaceX's launch capability over BO's"

I'd encourage you to read my entire post. Specifically the part about Bezos giving a *sugar* about how anyone views Blue Origin.
 

bxr140

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By "placeholders" I meant getting some satellites into orbit to get started on the FCC requirements.

After this batch I suspect they plan to switch to New Glenn, but in the meantime, this is going to be expensive.

As noted above, this contract is strong indication that Kuiper is going to put up a serviceable constellation in a timeframe incompatible with the NG timeline, not some attempt to meet FCC requirements (which FTR are not hard requirements, they're more guidelines to be kept in good faith). Implied is that these 9 launches will lift the first phase of the constellation...500-something satellites. No doubt Starlink's lead, Oneweb's potential resurgence, and Telesat's potential have encouraged Kuiper's announcement, though its clear they've been working on this project for years so it would be very uninformed to suggest their timeline has been materially advanced because of the competition.

As noted above, the deal between Kuiper and ULA makes so much sense that its highly likely Kuiper will continue to keep ULA on contract even after NG starts flying.
 

scaesare

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I'd encourage you to read my entire post. Specifically the part about Bezos giving a *sugar* about how anyone views Blue Origin.
I did. Your response:

1) Misses the fact that Jeff may indeed care about how people view SpaceX in comparison as I stated in my post. (And incidentally, you don't know what Jeff cares about, and I suspect you are wrong about somebody that driven).

2) Also misses the point that in all the examples you contrived, they attribute potential malice to SpaceX/Elon, but not Amazon/Bezos. That seems telling.
 

Cosmacelf

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A bit off topic, but ULA is relying on Blue Origin engines for Vulcan. I wonder how that's going.

Apparently it is going fine. A bit delayed, but not unreasonably so.

Blue Origin is a fine company ... they're just slow. The reason we poke fun at New Shepard is mostly because the press, and sometimes Blue itself, make comparisons between it and Falcon 9, which is, in fact, ridiculous on many levels. But if I wanted to make a tourist trip, I'd chose New Shepard over Virgin Galactic in a heartbeat, and probably even over a Falcon 9 trip to the ISS (bear in mind that the ISS trip would cost at least 10x the cost). Why? Well, VG is friggin scary IMHO. Unlike Blue, they are a seat of the pants company with multiple deaths attributed to their program. And a trip to the ISS, on any rocket, is going to be uncomfortable and dangerous, at least compared to New Shepard.

While slow New Shepard development can actually be considered a feature (it makes potential customers feel comfortable about it all), it isn't a feature when it comes to New Glenn and other Blue endeavors because Blue has actual real competition in these other areas. In this case, speed to market matters.

But back to your original question, it seems that actual BE-4 engine development has been going OK. Anyone else have an opinion?
 

bxr140

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I did. Your response:

1) Misses the fact that Jeff may indeed care about how people view SpaceX in comparison as I stated in my post. (And incidentally, you don't know what Jeff cares about, and I suspect you are wrong about somebody that driven).

2) Also misses the point that in all the examples you contrived, they attribute potential malice to SpaceX/Elon, but not Amazon/Bezos. That seems telling.

Nah.

To reiterate from above, there's no evidence to suggest Jeff gives a *sugar* about what people think about Blue. If he was going to do something about the negative perception, he would have done it YEARS ago. They were founded 20 years ago and it took them 10 years to launch NS. They landed a rocket--LANDED AN EFFING ROCKET--5 years ago, and here we are just 10 or 12 or something launches later. New Glenn was supposed to fly in 2020, and honestly I'm not even sure what the public domain launch date is anymore. At every step, SpaceX fans (and even Elon, at least until he realized there's not a lot of fun in dynamiting fish in a barrel) have been more than happy to highlight any "Simpsons Did It" comparison of Blue's progress, and at every step Blue's reaction has not been to pivot/accelerate/reorg/whatever in reaction but rather has been to eat the negs and stay the [very slow] course.

No question Blue is a legit company employing good people, solid technical concepts, and admirable vision, and they can do seriously good work...but their progress is comically slow. And that comically slow progress has been the butt of jokes for a LONG time.

To go tangent, there's plenty of evidence that suggests Jeff doesn't care about perception in general, both as the defacto face of Amazon (working conditions, Hunger Games-ing cities/regions against each other, predatory product appropriation, etc) and in his personal life (philanthropic record, public portrayal of his marriage, and let's face it...the stupid Supervillain Look).

So to beat the horse, Jeff doesn't care about perception. Jeff cares about 1) control, 2) money, and 3) his vision. Kuiper is all about 1 and 2. This thread is all about the fact that, in that context, choosing ULA is a fantastic decision for Amazon.


Wrapping this one up, I'd again encourage you to consider a more objective analysis of the situation. How could Amazon/Bezos employ 'potential malice' against SpaceX/Elon regarding any discussion/negotiation regarding the launch of Kuiper satellites? SpaceX/Elon are holding all the cards.

While slow New Shepard development can actually be considered a feature (it makes potential customers feel comfortable about it all), it isn't a feature when it comes to New Glenn and other Blue endeavors because Blue has actual real competition in these other areas. In this case, speed to market matters.

FWIW the space biz is very much "what have you done for me lately" and so whenever NG comes to market, if it proves to be reliable and cost effective (and has requisite cadence/volume) they'll fill up their manifest. If something else like Starship beats cost and reliability and availability, regardless who gets to market first, customers will focus on that solution. There are loyalties in the space biz, but generally the players take the opposite approach of spreading themselves around the very small gene pool.

Time will tell whether all that continues to hold true. The gene pool is getting bigger and money is getting easier.
 

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