Amazon's Kuiper satellites will soon make their debut in orbit. The company is gearing up to deploy its first two satellites, the KuiperSat-1 and the KuiperSat-2, for its Protoflight mission that's scheduled to launch on October 6. Project Kuiper is Amazon's answer to SpaceX's Starlink service. At the moment, its plans entail launching 3,200 satellites over the next six years to form a constellation that can provide internet connectivity even to far-flung places traditional providers can't reach.
The KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 are the first version of Amazon's satellites and will provide the company with an important learning opportunity. They'll allow the company to conduct a series of tests that would add valuable real-world data to information already collected from the lab. Project Kuiper's ground team will also get the chance to observe how the network performs, since Protoflight will be testing the satellites' connection to Kuiper's ground-based network and to customer terminals. In addition, it will serve as a trial for the launch operations of subsequent satellites.
"We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing," said Rajeev Badyal, Project Kuiper’s vice president of technology, in a statement. "This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds."
Amazon previously announced its intention to send the first two Kuiper satellites to space on top of a ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket. However, ULA encountered delays with the new rocket's development, and the satellites will be ferried to space on top of an Atlas V instead. ULA will deploy the satellites at an altitude of 311 miles, and then the Kuiper team will start testing the systems onboard and confirm all electronics are working, establish first contact and deploy the satellites' solar arrays. After that, the team will send data back and forth to test the network. Amazon says both satellites will be deorbited by the end of the mission.
The company says it's on track to deploy its first production satellites in the first half of 2024 and to start beta testing with commercial consumers later that year. Presumably, it could incorporate changes to its plans, depending on what it learns from this launch. ULA will be streaming the event live on October 6, with coverage starting at 2PM ET.