May 22, 2024

The internet has become an integral connector of our modern world. Yet more than a third of the globe’s population remains without access to it. Rajeev Badyal is looking to change that—by sending internet-beaming satellites into orbit.

Since 2018, Badyal has served as vice president for technology at Project Kuiper, Amazon’s burgeoning satellite internet provider. This year Badyal oversaw the successful launch of two prototype satellites, which will eventually be joined by 3,000 others to create a global network. In industry parlance, these flocks of satellites are called constellations.

“Like most people on the Kuiper team, my biggest source of motivation is our mission to provide fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” Badyal tells Quartz. “This is an enormous challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to make a real difference for tens of millions of people, and we’ve designed our entire constellation—and every component within it—to support that mission.”

If Project Kuiper sounds similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, it’s not coincidental. Badyal was a top Starlink leader when SpaceX launched its initial two test satellites. In 2018, Elon Musk reportedly fired Badyal (and six other Starlink managers) because he was displeased with the speed of the division’s development. One billionaire’s loss makes another’s gain: Badyal and a few members of his team were quickly scooped up by Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.

Sure, Project Kuiper may be reaching the galactic starting line late. (Starlink already has some 5,000 satellites in orbit and two million subscribers to their networks; some industry experts estimate it will take a while for the newcomer to catch up.) But Kuiper’s entry into the game hastens a satellite internet race that could benefit millions of people who currently lack access to broadband.

Kuiper says it’s working to build a network that loosens costs in the market. Although it hasn’t yet released pricing, Amazon notes their standard customer terminal currently costs about $400 to produce, and are working to reduce that further. In comparison, a Starlink kit costs $599. Should Kuiper deliver on its aims, satellite broadband could become more affordable—which, in turn, could bring the internet to more people in the developing economies currently lacking a connection. It remains to be seen if Kuiper will meaningfully drive down costs for those communities. But at the minimum, Badyal’s team could also help diversify and spur innovation among the small satellite internet market.

Before shooting satellites into space, Badyal worked on engineering products considerably more earthbound. He began his career at Hewlett Packard, realizing a childhood dream of becoming an engineer. There, he invented technology for optimal mouses and inkjet printing, and later led hardware development for Microsoft’s Zune.

Last year, Badyal was selected to sit on the US National Space Council’s User Advisory Group, which provides space policy recommendations to the White House. Badyal calls it an honor. “LEO constellations like Project Kuiper play an important role in the growing space economy,” he says.

This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023, a series that spotlights the people deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good across the globe. Find the full list here.


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