Amazon Changes Project Kuiper Satellite Launch Plans

14th Aug 2023
Amazon Changes Project Kuiper Satellite Launch Plans

The Project Kuiper satellite prototype for Amazon’s satellite broadband program, will now lift off atop United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The company previously planned to launch with the upcoming Vulcan Centaur, which has been delayed due to an anomaly in March. Following that, Amazon has been forced to switch rockets as the company must race to launch half the 3,236 satellites within the constellation due to a 2026 regulatory deadline.

Atlas V to launch Project Kuiper prototype

According to the update on the Project Kuiper satellite prototype from 7th August, Amazon stated: “Project Kuiper is now planning to launch its prototype satellites on an Atlas V rocket. ULA is working backwards from a launch date in fall 2023. We will have more detail to share as the mission approaches.”

Amazon had originally tapped ULA to launch its first two Project Kuiper satellite prototypes, Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2, ahead of building the constellation. It was planned, that the installation would provide fast and affordable broadband to “unserved and underserved communities” across the globe. However, Vulcan’s delays have made Amazon fly its prototype satellites on legacy carrier Atlas V.

Atlas V has been flying since 2002 and consists of two main stages: The Atlas V first stage and the Centaur upper stage. According to Reuters, a spokesman from ULA, James Watkins, said the targeted launch date is 26th September.

What is Project Kuiper?

In April 2022, Amazon announced it had inked contracts with three rocket companies, Blue Origin, Arianespace, and ULA, to launch its Project Kuiper satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The agreement included 38 launches with ULA’s Vulcan, 18 launches with Arianespace’s Ariane 6, and 12 on Blue Origin’s New Glenn, with options for 15 more.

Anazon’s Project Kuiper is set to enter into the constellation market against SpaceX’s Starlink, which already has almost deployed 5,000 satellites into LEO. However, while they will be competitors, the companies will operate in fairly different constellations. On the one hand, Starlink could become a constellation of up to 42,000 satellites, while Project Kuiper has only announced it will be just over 3,200 satellites. Further, Amazon Kuiper is a collaboration between several launch providers, whereas Starlink is only launched by SpaceX.

Vulcan delay

ULA’s Vulcan Centaur is now set to launch in late 2023 after it was initially planned to fly in May 2022. Before the planned maiden flight on 29th March at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, ULA was conducting a propellant loading and tank pressurization test on the Centaur V. However, a hydrogen leak ignited and caused a test article of the upper stage to be destroyed. According to company CEO Tory Bruno, the upper stage failed due to high stress near the top of the liquid hydrogen propellant tank, and weaker welding.

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