Amazon is set to launch two prototype satellites later today its Project Kuiper team improve the technology for broadband from space.
The prototype satellites—KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2—are the first iterations of more than 3,200 satellites the project plans to manufacture and deploy over the next six years. The first two satellites will be launched by the Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance. European launch company Ariane also has a contract to launch more Kuiper satellites with deployment systems from Swiss manufacturer Beyond Gravity.
The first production satellites are on track for launch in the first half of 2024, and Amazon expects to be in beta testing with early commercial customers by the end of 2024. This will compete with the US Starlink service from Space X and UK-based OneWeb.
The Kuiper System includes three key elements: advanced LEO broadband satellites; small, affordable customer terminals; and a secure, resilient ground-based communications network. The Protoflight mission will test all three parts, along with the teams and systems that manage them.
The series of tests will add real-world data from space to years of data collected from lab and field testing, providing additional insight into how the end-to-end Project Kuiper network performs across ground and space. It is also a chance to trial our mission procedures for satellite processing, launch, and mission operations.
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“We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing,” said Rajeev Badyal, Project Kuiper’s vice president of technology. “This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds.”
The satellites will be deployed at an altitude of 311 miles (500 kilometers) with solar arrays to generate power and to confirm onboard electronics are operating nominally within acceptable power and temperature ranges.
The networking hardware and software will also be tested to refine how they support the flow of data through the Kuiper System and AWS. Gateway antennas positioned around the world will track and communicate with the satellites and also connect the Kuiper System to the internet.
As the mission progresses, we will test the network from end to end, sending data back and forth between the internet, our ground gateways, the satellites, and our customer terminals.
At the end of the mission, Amazon plans to actively remove the satellites from orbit both satellites before they ultimately burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“I’m proud of the entire Project Kuiper team for getting us to this point and grateful for their contributions,” said Badyal. “The hard work that goes into building a new space system from scratch is tremendous, but this team has dedicated themselves to the goal of delivering affordable broadband to those who need it.”