On Friday, a rocket from United Launch Alliance called Atlas 5 was launched. It carried two internet satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper program into orbit. This adds to the competition in the space-based broadband market that is currently controlled by SpaceX.
According to Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, although we have conducted thorough testing in our laboratory and are highly confident in our satellite design, it is still essential to perform on-orbit testing. This is because it is Amazon’s initial venture into launching satellites, and we anticipate gaining valuable knowledge from this experience.
At 2:06 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the first-stage engine of the Atlas 5, manufactured by Russia’s RD-180, ignited with a loud roar. The engine then increased in power and propelled the 196-foot-tall rocket away from pad 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket curved eastward over the Atlantic Ocean.
The initial section of the rocket was successfully discarded as intended, after launching the vehicle beyond the thick lower atmosphere. The remainder of the flight was carried out using the Centaur upper stage. In an unusual move for non-military missions, ULA stopped providing live updates shortly after the separation of stages, at the behest of Amazon.
SpaceX, the dominant company in the market for internet services from space, successfully completed its 113th mission for Starlink, bringing the total number of launched satellites to 5,222. It is estimated that over 4,800 of these satellites are currently in operation.
SpaceX currently provides commercial services in various countries globally and intends to send out a larger number of Starlink satellites in the future to expand its worldwide reach.
Amazon intends to deploy 3,236 Kuiper satellites, and internet connectivity will commence once 578 data relay stations have been placed in orbit. The company has secured agreements worth $10 billion for 38 launches, utilizing ULA’s Vulcan rocket, the European Ariane 6 booster on 18 flights, and a minimum of 12 launches using the New Glenn rockets developed by Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.
None of the rockets have been launched yet as they are all still in the development stage.
According to the company’s website, our FCC license mandates that we launch and maintain at least 50% of our satellite network by July 2026. We anticipate offering service to our initial Project Kuiper customers by the conclusion of 2024.
Various satellite systems, such as the Kuiper satellites, SpaceX’s Starlinks, and OneWeb’s relay stations at higher altitudes, are currently being developed to enable global broadband coverage. These systems will utilize numerous small satellites in low-Earth orbit.
As the satellites orbit above, they receive information from clients, transmit the data between satellites and then to ground stations connected to fast internet connections. The responses are then sent back to the customer, ensuring continuous and fast service.
The Kuiper program has divulged limited information regarding its satellites, only stating that they will be sent into three orbital layers at heights ranging from 370 to 390 miles. The first 578 satellites, known as phase 1, will be placed in orbits tilted at a 51.9 degree angle to the equator.
The company states that our goal is to create a system that achieves a balance between cost-effectiveness and efficiency. We aim to offer customers a variety of choices and flexibility through a range of options.
“Our smallest terminal offers speeds of 100 Mbps, our middle-sized model can achieve up to 400 Mbps, and our largest model, designed for business, government, and telecom use, can reach 1 Gbps.”
Amazon has yet to reveal the pricing for their Kuiper service, however, the company states that affordability is a crucial factor.
“Amazon has always prioritized offering affordable prices and has a proven track record of creating successful, budget-friendly devices. We are implementing a similar strategy for Project Kuiper.”