Amazon will now launch Project Kuiper satellites on Atlas V

Jeff Bezos' e-commerce giant is set to rival Elon Musk's Starlink service with its 3,200-internet satellite mega-constellation.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a ULA Atlas V rocket launching the satellites.
An artist's impression of a ULA Atlas V rocket launching the satellites.


Amazon has announced it will now deploy its two Project Kuiper prototype satellites aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket this fall.

The satellites had been scheduled to launch on the debut flight of ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket. However, delays to the new rocket's maiden flight and time constraints related to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations have led to Amazon making the shift.

Project Kuiper satellites to launch on Atlas V

Amazon's license with the FCC means it must launch half of its Project Kuiper satellite network by 2026, while the entire satellite fleet must be in low Earth orbit by 2029.

As such, it makes sense that the delivery giant would want to fast-track the launch of its prototype internet satellites, designed to rival SpaceX's Starlink fleet. According to a Reuters report, the Atlas V launch of the Project Kuiper satellites could take place on 26 September.

"Project Kuiper is now planning to launch its prototype satellites on an Atlas V rocket," an official statement on Amazon's website explains. "ULA is working backward from a launch date in fall 2023. We will have more detail to share as the mission approaches."

When fully operational, ULA's Vulcan Centaur will be capable of lifting up to 27.2 metric tons (60,000 lbs) to low Earth orbit. It was designed to replace ULA's Atlas IV and Delta V rockets, but its debut flight has been delayed for four years due in part to the delayed delivery of BE-4 engines built by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' space company, Blue Origin.

Vulcan Centaur's debut flight will no longer lift Amazon's prototype satellites to orbit, but it will still carry the Peregrine lunar lander, built by Astrobiotic, which is designed to carry 11 payloads to the Moon.

Project Kuiper to take on Starlink

Much like SpaceX's Starlink service, Amazon's Project Kuiper project aims to provide high-speed internet to regions around the world that don't have easy access to fiber optic.

The company's two prototypes, Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2, will help it validate its technology ahead of a series of launches that will lift the entire Kuiper constellation into orbit.

If all goes according to plan, Amazon aims to have a 31,000-square-meter factory up and running at NASA Kennedy Space Center next year to help speed up the manufacturing process.

Overall, Amazon has committed $10 billion to Project Kuiper so far. However, the company's 3,200-internet-satellite constellation will actually be relatively small compared to SpaceX's Starlink network.

SpaceX currently has more than 4,000 operational Starlink satellites. Elon Musk's space company also has permission to launch an additional 12,000 satellites, and it is also seeking FCC approval to launch approximately 30,000 more.

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