Like the legend of King Midas, nearly everything Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) touches seems to turn to gold. While there have been notable failures (I'm looking at you, Fire Phone), the company's willingness to go anywhere and try anything has led to some significant growth engines outside of its mainstay e-commerce business, including cloud computing, business-to-business (B2B) commerce, smart speakers -- a category it created -- and even digital advertising.
Now, Amazon is embarking on new venture, which could be one of its biggest yet. The company is looking to expand its empire beyond these terrestrial borders -- which could result in Amazon's most lucrative business yet.
Access to 4 billion new customers
Reports emerged in April that Amazon was working on a plan -- code-named Project Kuiper -- to launch 3,236 small satellites into Earth's orbit, creating an interconnected network that would be capable of beaming high-speed internet to anywhere on the planet. This isn't as far-fetched as it might sound. Communications satellites are already used to beam television, telephone, radio, and internet signals around the Earth.
Amazon has a compelling incentive to bring internet to remote regions of the world -- each of its inhabitants are potential customers.
"You can see the clear profit motive here for Amazon: 4 billion new customers," said Chad Anderson, CEO of venture capital firm Space Angels. "Already, there's been a lot of value in connecting these people to the global economy."
ARK Invest analyst Sam Korus agrees. "If you get everyone access to the internet then you've just doubled your total addressable market for e-commerce, cloud, internet, and any other business Amazon wants to do," he said.
Rajeev Badyal, former vice president of satellites for SpaceX, and members of his team were hired by Amazon earlier this year to spearhead the project. Badyal and his team launched two test satellites for SpaceX last year, so he's definitely up to the task.
Amazon confirmed its plans, saying, "Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world," according to an Amazon spokesperson.
Amazon's most lucrative opportunity?
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas is particularly enthusiastic about Amazon's plan, saying it could represent an as much as "$100 million opportunity." Jonas believes the value of the space economy will skyrocket from $350 billion to more than $1.1 trillion by 2040, led by the growing need for space-based telecommunications networks.
Increasing global internet connectivity will result in greater adoption of e-commerce -- which will result in more consumers joining Amazon's ecosystem, according to Jonas.
This is just one way the company could potentially benefit from the project. Since late last year, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company's cloud computing segment, has been approaching the opportunity from another direction. AWS is building a network of 12 satellite ground stations, which are responsible for transmitting data to and from the orbiting satellites.
The company plans to offer the ground stations to satellite users on an as-needed, pay-as-you-go basis, much like it does with AWS. With these facilities, users "will be able to ingest data straight into AWS, where they can securely store, analyze, and transmit products to their customers," said Charlie Bell, AWS senior vice president.
A word of caution
Beaming internet around the planet seems like just the type of moonshot (pun intended) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would find appealing -- it's a big risk, big reward-type venture. The price tag for a network of satellites won't be cheap. Industry experts peg the cost in a range of between $3 billion and $5 billion.
Even if Amazon makes all the right steps to bring this project to fruition, it will likely be 10 years before it becomes a reality. But if and when it does, it could be a game-changer.