Amazon’s Kuiper Project Launches First Internet Satellites In Q4 2022
A render of ABL Space’s RS1 rocket launching Project Kuiper satellites for Amazon.
Amazon aims to launch its first Project Kuiper Internet satellites in the fourth quarter of 2022, the company said on Monday.
The tech giant has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate its first two prototype satellites, called KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2. Amazon said the satellites will be launched with ABL Space on its RS1 rocket.
“We will soon be ready to see how [the satellites] perform in space, ”Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s vice president of technology, said in a statement. “There is no substitute for in-orbit testing, and we expect to learn a lot given the complexity and risk of operating in such a difficult environment.
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s plan to build a network of 3,236 low-earth orbit satellites to provide high-speed Internet access anywhere in the world. The FCC last year cleared Amazon’s system, which the company said plans to “invest more than $ 10 billion” in Kuiper. Kuiper’s first service is expected to begin once Amazon has 578 satellites in orbit.
Amazon announced a partnership with Verizon last week to work with the telecommunications giant in the increasingly competitive field of high-speed satellite Internet.
Kuiper is poised to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink network, which is the most advanced of the latest generation of broadband satellite systems. Various other networks are in various stages of development, including those of the British company OneWeb, Astranis backed by BlackRock, the smartphone satellite specialist AST SpaceMobile, Lockheed Martin’s partnership with the start-up Omnispace and the Canadian satellite operator. Telesat’s Lightspeed.
The Kuiper Project team has grown steadily at Amazon, which now has more than 750 people and “hundreds more” expected to be hired next year. Amazon has built a 219,000 square foot facility in Redmond, Wash. To test and manufacture the satellites, and plans to add another 20,000 square foot facility.
The launch and testing of KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 within a year is one of the next major steps in Amazon’s system development.
The pair of satellites are intended to test Amazon’s communications and network infrastructure, connecting to the company’s ground stations based in Texas, South America and Asia-Pacific.
“KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 will include much of the technology and subsystems that power the production version of our satellite design – phased array and satellite dishes, power and propulsion systems, custom-designed modems, and more, ”Amazon said in a blog post.
Amazon also plans to test customer’s first satellite dishes at the McCulloch, Texas site. The company described the antenna as a “low cost customer terminal” that will provide “reliable service at a more affordable price than traditional antennas”, having carried out preliminary tests of prototype equipment at the end of last year.
According to the Amazon file, the satellites are expected to connect to the Texas antennas for four minutes, up to five times a day.
An engineer from the Kuiper project sets up a prototype antenna for a test.
The impact of networks with hundreds or thousands of satellites on the night sky has been a matter of concern for systems like Kuiper. Similar to the “sunshields” that SpaceX added to Starlink satellites to reduce brightness, Amazon said that one of the two Kuiper satellite prototypes “will include a sunshade to help us figure out if they are. ‘an effective way to reduce reflectivity and thus mitigate its impact on optical ground telescopes.
“We will collect data to compare the reflectivity between the two spacecraft and share any learning with the astronomical community after the mission,” Amazon said.
Additionally, to combat the risk of adding space debris to orbit, Amazon stressed that its Kuiper prototypes are designed to burn entirely in the atmosphere at the end of their lifespan.
Another deal with a rocket builder
An RS1 rocket thruster is shipped from the company’s headquarters in El Segundo, California.
Amazon plans to send the satellites on separate ABL launches, which will take off from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida. The companies have been working together “for several months,” Amazon said, with two design reviews completed.
ABL continues to work for the inaugural launch of its RS1 rocket from Alaska by the end of this year. The company has already announced plans to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska, making Cape Canaveral its third planned launch site to date. ABL has yet to announce which launch complex it plans to use in Florida.
Amazon missions add to ABL’s backlog, which the rocket maker says has 14 customers so far.
“Amazon will play a pivotal role in the next generation of space infrastructure, and we are proud to have been selected as Kuiper’s launch partner, especially for these early critical flights,” said ABL CEO Harry O ‘Hanley, in a statement.
The agreement with ABL is the second Amazon has signed with a launch provider, having contracted the United Launch Alliance earlier this year for nine Kuiper launches.