A United Alliance Atlas V rocket before launch in Florida for a satellite test mission for Amazon’s Kuiper constellation that will provide Internet from space (handout)
Amazon launched its first two satellite prototypes on Friday as part of a key test mission for the development of its future constellation called the Kuiper Project, which would provide internet from space and compete with SpaceX.
The launch of the Atlas V rocket with the satellites took place at 2:06 p.m. local time (6:06 p.m. GMT) from Cape Canaveral in Florida, said the industrial group United Launch Alliance (ULA), which provided the means of transport.
“This is the first time that Amazon has placed satellites in space,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for the Kuiper project, said before the launch. “We’ll learn a lot no matter how the mission goes.”
Amazon, an online sales giant founded by American billionaire Jeff Bezos, plans to launch 3,200 satellites into orbit over the next six years.
The two prototypes launched on Friday will be removed from orbit and will disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of the mission.
The ULA rocket must deploy it at an altitude of 500 kilometers.
Tests will then be carried out to contact them from Earth, deploy their solar panels and confirm that all instruments are working properly at the desired temperatures.
The Kuiper project’s first operational satellites are scheduled to launch in early 2024, according to Amazon, which hopes to begin testing with customers late next year.
The Amazon-ULA partnership currently plans 9 launches of the Atlas V rocket and 38 launches of the Vulcan Centaur (vehicle under development) to deploy satellites.
– Many competitors –
The space internet sector is booming and is currently largely dominated by SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, which has a head start. Elon Musk’s company has already put several thousand satellites into orbit and has more than two million customers in more than 60 countries.
At the end of September, the merger of satellite operators Eutelsat and OneWeb was completed and was expected to create a European giant.
China also wants to have its own constellation, GuoWang.
Historical satellite internet services pass machines in geostationary orbit at an altitude of more than 35,000 km. However, due to their distance, they cannot achieve the performance of a high-speed connection, especially due to the delay between the command and the execution of the request.
Satellites in low Earth orbit, at an altitude of a few hundred kilometers, enable faster communication.
For Amazon, this is a first test, “so we expect some outages,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Cornell University. Once operational satellite launches begin, “their numbers will initially pale in comparison to Starlink,” he says, “but the constellation will grow quickly.”