Amazon's three rocket makers insist Project Kuiper will launch on schedule
It's not as if space is hard, is it?
The three companies tapped by Amazon to launch its Project Kuiper constellation have confirmed that they're definitely going to get the satellites into orbit despite repeated delays.
Amazon has committed to spending billions on launches using the Ariane 6, Blue Origin's New Glenn, and United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan Centaur.
As reported by SpaceNews.com, representatives from the companies involved have confirmed that Amazon's constellation is on track to launch by the deadlines set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Not that Amazon needs much reminding, but at least half of the constellation must be launched by July 2026, with the rest by July 2029.
The deadline makes for an increasingly ambitious goal – to launch more than 1,800 satellites in less than three years.
Closest to finally lighting the blue touchpaper is ULA's Vulcan Centaur, which might start troubling the pad for launch processing in November, with a first launch before 2023 is out. The replacement for the workhorse Atlas V, the Vulcan Centaur uses the Blue Origin BE-4 engine in its first stage and an upper stage based on the venerable Centaur.
Both critical components have, in varying ways, led to delays for the Vulcan Centaur. Calling the delivery of the BE-4 engines "late" would be an understatement, and an explosion during testing of the Centaur V upper stage earlier this year pushed things back until the end of 2023 while ULA worked to resolve the issue.
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In the meantime, the Atlas V will be used for Project Kuiper launches. However, with no more of the veteran variant available other than those already scheduled, getting the Vulcan Centaur launching regularly is critical.
Joining ULA on the critical path for Amazon is Ariane 6, which is due for a long-duration hot-fire test of the core stage in October. Should that go well, a launch in 2024 is a possibility, although Stéphane Israël, chief executive of Arianespace, stopped short of giving a specific period.
Euroconsult World Satellite Business Week SVP for New Glenn at Blue Origin, Jarrett Jones, was light on specifics. The New Glenn rocket will be responsible for the lion's share of Amazon's launches – much to the annoyance of some of the company's shareholders – but has yet to put in an appearance at the company's integration facility let alone perform any integrated hot-fire tests.
Jones insisted the company was working toward a first launch in 2024 but, like Israel, did not give a precise timeframe.
Time is now very short for Amazon to get cracking with Project Kuiper. Factors such as the FCC license coupled with rivals stealing considerably more than a march on the company will be weighing heavy on the company's board.
Still, at least the companies responsible for the rockets on which Amazon has bet its constellation reckon they can still get everything launched on schedule.
No pressure. ®