This Is The First Kuiper Satellite Launched By Amazon

Amazon has officially joined the race to build massive constellations of satellites that can blanket the globe in internet connectivity — a move that puts the tech company in direct competition with SpaceX and its Starlink system.

The first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s network, called Project Kuiper, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:06 p.m. ET Friday.

According to a statement by Rajeev Badyal, Project Kuiper’s vice president of technology, they’ve done extensive testing in their lab and have a high degree of confidence in their satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing

“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.” he added.

The company did confirm “mission success,” and said in a news release that it “precisely” delivered the satellites. However, Amazon could not immediately confirm contact with the satellites.

If successful, the mission could queue up Amazon to begin adding hundreds more of the satellites into orbit, eventually building a network of more than 3,200 satellites that will work in tandem to beam internet connectivity to the ground.

It’s the same business model employed by Starlink, the SpaceX constellation that has been growing rapidly since 2019. Already, SpaceX has more than 4,500 active Starlink satellites in orbit and offers commercial and residential service to most of the Americas, Europe and Australia.

Until relatively recently, most space-based telecommunications services were provided by large, expensive satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which lies thousands of miles away from Earth.

The drawback with this space-based internet strategy was that the extreme distance of the satellites created frustrating lag times. Now, companies including SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are looking to bring things closer to home.

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Even before those companies began to build their services, the satellite industry dreamed of delivering high-speed, space-based internet directly to consumers. There were several such efforts in the 1990s that either ended in bankruptcy or forced corporate owners to shift plans when expenses outweighed the payoffs.

Cheaper satellites and lower launch costs have led to the emergence of “megaconstellations” in low-Earth orbit, or LEO, that lie less than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) above Earth.

Unlike geostationary orbit, which allows satellites to stay fixed over the same area of Earth and beam uninterrupted service to a certain area, satellites in LEO whisk by at high speed. That’s why thousands of satellites are required to work together for this approach to blanket the planet in connectivity.

Such widespread high-speed internet access could be revolutionary. As of 2021, nearly 3 billion people across the globe still lacked basic internet access, according to statistics from the United Nations. That’s because more common forms of internet service, such as underground fiber optic cables, had not yet reached certain areas of the world.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation could become part of that conversation — facing similar geopolitical pressures — if the network proves successful. Despite the promises of a global internet access revolution, the massive satellite megaconstellations needed to beam internet across the globe are controversial.

Already, there are thousands of pieces of space junk in low-Earth orbit. And the more objects there are in space, the more likely it is that disastrous collisions could occur, further exacerbating the issue. The Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes space-based telecom services, recently began enhancing its space debris mitigation policies.

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For its part, the satellite industry has largely pledged to abide by recommended best practices, including pledging to deorbit satellites as missions conclude.

Meanwhile, astronomers have also continuously raised concerns about the impact all these satellites in low-Earth orbit have on the night sky, warning that these manmade objects can intrude upon and distort telescope observations and complicate ongoing research.

Reacting to the concerns, Amazon said one of the two prototype satellites it launched Friday will test antireflective technology aiming to mitigate telescope interference. The company has also been consulting with astronomers from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, according to Amazon spokesperson Brecke Boyd.

Amazon has said it hopes to produce Project Kuiper terminals for as low as about $400 per device, though the company has not yet begun demonstrating or selling the terminals. The company has not revealed a price for monthly Kuiper services.

For now, Kuiper satellites are launching on rockets built by United Launch Alliance, a close partner of Blue Origin. In addition to ULA and Blue Origin, Amazon has a Project Kuiper launch contract with European launch provider Arianespace.

On August 28, The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, which owns a stake in Amazon, filed a lawsuit against the company over the launch contracts.

The lawsuit alleges Amazon executives “consciously and intentionally breached their most basic fiduciary responsibilities” in part by forgoing the option of launching Project Kuiper satellites on rockets built by SpaceX, which the suit claims is “one of the most cost-effective launch providers.”

“The claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

If all goes to plan, Amazon said it intends to launch its first production satellites early next year and begin offering beta testing to initial customers by the end of 2024, according to a news release.

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