Amazon plans to launch its first Project Kuiper internet satellites in the fourth quarter of 2022, the company announced on Monday.
The tech giant filed 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 launch with ABL Space on its RS1 rocket.
“We’ll be ready soon to see how [the satellites] accomplish in space, “said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology at Amazon.
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low earth orbit to deliver high speed internet anywhere in the world. The FCC last year approved Amazon’s scheme, which the company says will invest “more than $ 10 billion” in Kuiper. Kuiper’s early service is slated to begin once Amazon has 578 satellites in orbit.
Amazon last week announced a partnership with Verizon to work with the telecommunications giant in the increasingly competitive space of high-speed satellite internet.
Kuiper is ready to be on par with SpaceX’s Starlink network, the most advanced in the latest generation of broadband satellite systems. A variety of other networks are in various stages of development, including those of UK’s OneWeb, BlackRock-backed Astranis, satellite-to-smartphone specialist AST SpaceMobile, Lockheed Martin’s partnership with startup Omnispace and Canadian satellite operator Telesat Lightspeed.
The team at Project Kuiper has grown steadily at Amazon, which now has more than 750 employees and “hundreds more” will be hired in the next year. Amazon built a 219,000 square foot facility in Redmond, Washington to test and manufacture the satellites, and plans to add another 20,000 square foot facility.
The prototype satellites
The introduction and testing of KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 in one year represents one of the next big milestones in the development of the Amazon system.
The pair of satellites will test Amazon’s communications and network infrastructure and connect it to the company’s ground stations in Texas, South America, and the Asia-Pacific region.
“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 parabolic antennas, power and propulsion systems, custom modems and more,” said Amazon in a blog post.
Amazon also plans to test satellite dishes from its first customer base in McCulloch, Texas. The company described the antenna as a “low cost customer terminal” that will provide “reliable service at a lower cost than traditional antennas” after conducting initial tests with prototypes late last year.
According to Amazon, the satellites will connect to the antennas of Texas up to five times a day for up to four minutes.
The impact of networks of hundreds or thousands of satellites on the night sky is a matter of concern for systems like Kuiper. Much like the “sunshades” that SpaceX added to Starlink satellites to reduce brightness, Amazon said that one of the two prototypes of Kuiper satellites “will include a sunshade to help us understand if this is a more effective one The way is to reduce the reflectivity and thereby its effects on ground-based optical telescopes. “
“We will collect data to compare the reflectivity between the two spacecraft and share any post-mission findings with the astronomy community,” said Amazon.
To combat the risk of space debris in orbit, Amazon emphasized that its Kuiper prototypes are designed to completely burn up in the atmosphere at the end of their life.
Another deal with a missile builder
Amazon plans to send the satellites up on separate ABL launches that will take off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The companies have been working together “for several months,” Amazon said, with two design reviews completed.
ABL continues to work towards the first launch of its RS1 missile from Alaska by the end of this year. The company previously 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 not yet announced which launch complex it will deploy in Florida.
The Amazon missions add to ABL’s backlog, which the rocket builder 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 a Kuiper launch partner, especially for these critical early flights,” said Harry O’Hanley, ABL CEO in a statement .
The contract with ABL is the second Amazon has signed with a launcher after signing the United Launch Alliance for nine Kuiper launches earlier this year.