After its Verizon teaming announcement last week, Amazon has now announced it will launch a pair of pathfinder satellites for its Project Kuiper broadband network by the end of next year. KuiperSat-1 and 2 will go up onboard separate ABL Space Systems rockets from Florida.
“We’ve invented lots of new technology to meet our cost and performance targets for Project Kuiper. All of the systems are testing well in simulated and lab settings, and we’ll soon be ready to see how they perform in space,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper in a blog post. “There is no substitute for on-orbit testing, and we expect to learn a lot given the complexity and risk of operating in such a challenging environment. We can’t wait to get started.”
Amazon made the blog announcement in conjunction with its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing on November 1. KuiperSat-1 and 2 will enable testing of communications and networking technology that will be used in the final satellite design, as well as validate launch operations and mission management procedures that will be used when deploying its full constellation of over 3,200 satellites.
KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 will include much of the technology and sub-systems for the production version of its satellite design, including phased array and parabolic antennas, power and propulsion systems, and custom-designed modems. Operations will include experimental tests using prototypes of the lower-cost Project Kuiper customer terminal that Amazon will ultimately have to produce at scale at quantities of hundreds of thousands to millions.
Amazon is also emphasizing responsible space policies in the operation and ultimate disposal of the two satellites. One of the two prototype satellites will have a sunshade to see if the use of the hardware will reduce reflectivity and reduce the impact of the satellite on ground-based optical telescopes as compared to a non-shaded satellite. In addition, both satellites are designed to burn up without any remaining debris in the atmosphere upon reentry and having other operational measures designed to avoid and reduce the risk of orbital debris.
ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket will be the launch vehicle for both Project Kuiper pathfinder satellites. Amazon has been “working closely” with the ABL team for several months and plans an initial fit check early next year, suggesting the satellites are relatively mature in the design and build process. Amazon reportedly has options up to five launches on ABL while larger groups of satellites will be booked on ULA Launch’s Atlas V rocket.