Two Project Kuiper prototype satellites finally reach orbit
Hey – gotta start somewhere
The first two satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper constellation have finally left Earth, riding a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V to orbit.
The launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Launch Complex 41 took place on October 6 at 14:06 EDT. The prototype satellites were dropped off into orbit less than 20 minutes later.
The mission, dubbed Protoflight, used ULA's workhorse Atlas V rocket. According to ULA: "The Protoflight launch is the first mission in a broader commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation."
The use of the Atlas V, while planned, underlines the conspicuous absence of rockets from another of Jeff Bezos' space ventures: Blue Origin. Indeed, Project Kuiper requires the use of several rocket families to take a first flight, including Arianespace's Ariane 6, before it will get anywhere near the thousands of satellites the broadband constellation requires.
As for the two prototypes, both were deployed at an altitude of 311 miles (500km) above Earth and are named KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2. Amazon's Redmond mission operations center made first contact with KuiperSat-2 at 14:53 EDT and its sibling a minute later.
According to Amazon: "First contact is one of several key steps in our Protoflight mission. It allows us to begin downlinking data on satellite health and establish more regular communications with the satellites."
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Project Kuiper has quite a task ahead of it. Already some way behind SpaceX's Starlink constellation, Amazon must get more than 1,600 satellites into orbit in the next few years to meet the conditions of its Federal Communications Commission license.
Today's launch is symptomatic of the delays faced by the program. The prototypes went up on one of the last Atlas V rockets, but they were initially slated to fly last year before issues with launchers – including lengthy development delays in ULA's own Atlas V replacement, the Vulcan Centaur – resulted in last week's Atlas V launch.
ULA said: "ULA's next launch is the inaugural Vulcan mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida."
The Vulcan depends on Blue Origin engines.
Remaining absent from Amazon's list of launch providers is SpaceX, which has continued to launch and land Falcon 9 rockets at an impressive pace.