By Joey Roulette
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, has signed a deal with Canada’s Telesat to launch part of a satellite constellation aimed at providing speedy internet access to governments and businesses globally, the companies said on Thursday.
The contract adds an important customer to Blue Origin’s manifest as Bezos’ space venture works to grab a share of the lucrative but crowded launch services market with its still-in-development heavy-lift New Glenn rocket planned for 2021.
Telesat, backed by Loral Space & Communications Inc, said in October that it conducted the first-ever live test of in-flight broadband via a satellite in low-Earth orbit. It was targeting 2022 for broadband services from a constellation of nearly 300 satellites.
Blue Origin’s rocket will propel some undisclosed portion of the constellation into orbit over a number of launches, the companies said.
Telesat’s network will “accelerate 5G expansion, bridge the digital divide with fibre-like high speed services into rural and remote communities, and set new levels of performance for commercial and government connectivity,” the company said in a statement.
Telesat is among a number of competing ventures planning constellations that will beam down internet broadband from space. Those include McLean, Virginia-based OneWeb, which planned a first launch in February, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink project, which is scrambling for a first launch later this year.
The Satellite Industry Association lobby group estimates the global market for satellite-based broadband and television services is worth $127.7 billion (£97.38 billion), dwarfing the roughly $5.5 billion satellite launch services market.
Amazon.com Inc founder Bezos’ rocket company is among a crop of billionaire-backed space ventures seeking to disrupt the legacy launch services market with reusable rocket technology.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn launcher is likely to face fierce competition from heavy-lift rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, a joint venture from Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
In a key step, Telesat said it will choose between Europe’s Airbus SE and a partnership between Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies Inc to develop its constellation’s ground and space systems.
Telesat also said it had an agreement with Alphabet Inc subsidiary Loon to build a control network for the constellation.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando, Florida; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Bill Berkrot)