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Amazon has signed a multi-launch deal with rocket developer ABL Space Systems and plans to launch its satellites in the fourth quarter of 2022. The mission is called Project Kuiper and the satellites are KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2. These two prototypes are supposed to launch on an experimental rocket called RS1 developed by ABL Space Systems.

Project Kuiper
An artistic rendering of ABL Space System’ RS1 rocket with Amazon’s prototype satellites on board Image credit: ABL Space Systems

Over the next decade Amazon plans to launch a giant constellation of up to 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit. This should provide low-latency broadband internet coverage to the surface. Some communities or areas exist without the access to the Internet connection, and project Kuiper plans to provide infrastructure for traditional internet services. It shares the same idea as Starlink, SpaceX’s broadband internet satellite constellation. Starlink aims to send nearly 12,000 satellites, and according to The Verge it has sent 1,700 of them already. 

The Verge wrote that previous week Amazon revealed the thrusters the satellites will use to maneuver through space. And Kuiper claims that these first prototypes will allow the company to test out the same “communication and networking technology” that will be included in the finalized satellites. The two prototypes will operate at 366 miles, or 590 kilometers, above Earth. KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 will house plenty of the same technology needed for the final constellation, including antennas, modems, and power and propulsion.

Project Kuiper
Launching two prototype satellites provides redundancy and enables Amazon to learn more from the tests than it would from a single mission, according to a company official. Image credit: Amazon

When satellites reach the destination point the company will test out the ability to connect with four of Kuiper’s user terminals and a ground station in McCulloch, which will send and receive broadband signals from the spacecraft. 

“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,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, said in a statement. “We can’t wait to get started.” So far, Kuiper says it has done some testing on the ground with its user terminals, claiming to get maximum throughput speeds of up to 400 Mbps. Starlink’s beta program touts download speeds up to 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps.

ABL’s RS1 rocket was not the initial vehicle to deliver Kuiper’s prototype satellites. In April, the company announced that it had purchased nine flights of the United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas V rocket in order to launch batches of Kuiper satellites. The company says it’s aiming to conduct its first test launch with the RS1 before the end of the year out of Alaska. Kuiper says it’s been “impressed by ABL’s unique capabilities, rapid development progress, and dedication to customers,” according to a blog post published. ABL’s RS1 rocket will have the capability to launch roughly 1.5 tons of payload to low Earth orbit at approximately $12 million per flight, which Kuiper claims is the “right capacity and cost-efficiency to support our mission profile.” An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the smaller RS1 is more appropriate for the launch of two satellites, while Kuiper plans to use the Atlas V rockets to deploy the full constellation.

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