March 4, 2024

The Internet has become an integral connection of our modern world. Yet more than a third of the globe’s population remains without access to it. Rajeev Badyal wants to change that – by sending internet beam satellites into orbit.

Since 2018, Badyal has served as vice president of technology at Project Kuiper, Amazon’s nascent 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 swarms of satellites are called constellations.

“Like most people on the Kuiper team, my greatest source of motivation is our mission to provide fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” Badyal tells Quartz. “It’s 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 in it—to support that mission.”

If Project Kuiper sounds similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, it’s no coincidence. 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 executives) because he was dissatisfied with the speed of the division’s development. One billionaire’s loss is another’s gain: Badyal and a few members of his team were scooped up quickly by Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.

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

Kuiper says he is working to build a network that unlocks costs in the market. Although it has not yet released pricing, Amazon notes that their standard customer terminal currently costs about $400 to manufacture, and is working to reduce that further. By comparison, a Starlink set costs $599. Should Kuiper achieve his goals, satellite broadband could become more affordable—which in turn could bring the Internet to more people in developing economies who currently don’t have a connection. It remains to be seen whether Kuiper will meaningfully lower costs for those communities. But at the very least, Badyal’s team could also help diversify and spur innovation among the small satellite Internet market.

Before launching satellites into space, Badyal worked on engineering products that were significantly more earthbound. He started his career at Hewlett Packard and fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming an engineer. There he invented technology for optimal mice 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 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.

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