Amazon details KuiperSat broadband satellites

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Amazon has developed new technology for its Project Kuiper to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellites.

The company has filed an experimental license application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch, deploy, and operate two prototype satellites for the project.

KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 are an important step in the development process to test the communications and networking technology that will be used in the final satellite design. The company plans a constellation of 3,236 satellites at altitudes of 590 km, 610 km, and 630km.

This will compete with the StarLink broadband network from SpaceX which already has 1791 satellites in orbit and UK-backed OneWeb with 358.

KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 will include much of the technology and sub-systems for the production version of design, including phased array and parabolic antennas, power and propulsion systems, and custom-designed modems.

This will use multi-beam phased array transceivers, for parabolic transceivers, and round-trip payload capability using a combination of phased array and parabolic transceivers. There will be three phased array antennas for customer terminal links—two for transmit and one for receive communications. The phased array antennas will each produce independent steerable beams that will be used to track the customer terminal throughout a satellite pass, transmitting multiple 100 MHz wide carriers within the 17.8-18.6 GHz band and receiving transmissions from customer terminals in the 28.6-29.1 GHz band.

Amazon plans to collect performance, diagnostic, and telemetry data from satellite bus and payload components, including avionics endpoints, bus voltages, batteries, and phased array panels.

One of the two prototype KuiperSats will also include a sunshade to help understand whether it is an effective way to reduce reflectivity and mitigate its impact on ground-based optical telescopes. We will collect data to compare reflectivity between the two spacecraft, and share any learnings with the astronomy community following the mission.

The Kuiper team will also conduct experimental tests using prototypes of a low-cost customer terminal, and Cobham is delivering a 2.4m antenna for the ground station in Texas.

There are 750 people currently working on Project Kuiper in Seattle, Washington, and the company is planning to add hundreds more to the team in the coming year.

“We’ve invented lots of new technology to meet our cost and performance targets for Project Kuiper. All of the systems are testing well in simulated and lab settings, and we’ll soon be ready to see how they perform in space,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper. “There is no substitute for on-orbit testing, and we expect to learn a lot given the complexity and risk of operating in such a challenging environment. We can’t wait to get started.”

Next: KuiperSat tech and launch

The KuiperSats will have two Global Navigation Satellite System receivers for reception of space-to-space navigation signals while in flight. It will also collect data from its ground station antennas, including customer terminals and gateway and Earth stations, as part of end-to-end testing.

The KuiperSats will also have a Fault Detection, Isolation, and Recovery (“FDIR”) system capable of detecting certain system anomalies and, in many cases, correcting and even disabling a malfunctioning subsystem should an anomaly occur.

The company is also using a new rocket from ABL Space Systems while it has a deal with United Launch Alliance to secure nine Atlas V launch vehicles to support its deployment schedule. The launchers developer by Blue Origin from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos do not reach the orbital hieghts required. ABL’s RS1 rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with a payload capacity over one ton to take multiple satellites into orbit.

“RS1 delivers the right capacity and cost-efficiency to support our mission profile,” says Amazon. “ABL’s RS1 and GS0 launch system are also fully containerized and mobile, providing the speed and flexibility to support these early launches. We have been working closely with the ABL team for several months and already completed two integration design reviews—including plans for a novel adapter design. We will conduct an initial fit check early next year.”

“We’re excited to add RS1 among the different launch vehicles we’ll use to deploy our satellites,” said the company. “We see this as just the start of a long-term relationship together and look forward to supporting ABL as they expand their business.

“Kuiper’s mission to bring high-speed, low-latency broadband service to underserved communities is highly motivating for our team here at ABL,” said Harry O’Hanley, CEO of ABL. “Amazon will play a central role in the next generation of space infrastructure, and we’re proud to have been selected as their launch partner for these critical early flights.”

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