Amazon announced on Monday that it plans to launch its first Project Kuiper Internet satellite in the fourth quarter of 2022.
The tech giant submitted a request to the FEDERAL Communications Commission to launch and operate its first two prototype satellites, Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2. The satellites will be launched aboard ABL Space's RS1 rocket, Amazon said.
"We'll be ready to see how (satellites) perform in space soon," Rajeev Badyal, Amazon's vice president of technology, said in a statement."There is no substitute for in-orbit testing, and given the complexity and risks of operating in such a challenging environment, we hope to learn a lot."
Project Kuiper is Amazon's plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low-Earth orbit to provide high-speed Internet anywhere in the world. The FCC approved Amazon's system last year, and the company said it planned to "invest more than $10 billion" in Kuiper. Kuiper's early services will begin once Amazon has 578 satellites in orbit.
Amazon announced a partnership with Verizon last week to partner with the telecom giant in the increasingly competitive world of high-speed satellite Internet.
Kuiper is preparing to go head-to-head with SpaceX's Starlink network, the most advanced of the latest generation of broadband satellite systems. Other networks are also in various stages of development, These include UK-owned OneWeb, BlackRock-backed Astranis, satellite-to-smartphone specialist AST SpaceMobile, Lockheed Martin's partnership with startup Omnispace, and Canadian satellite operator Telesat's Lightspeed.
The Kuiper team has grown steadily at Amazon, now employing more than 750 people and expecting to hire "hundreds more" next year. Amazon has built a 219,000-square-foot facility in Redmond, Wash., for testing and manufacturing satellites, and plans to add another 20,000-square-foot facility.
The prototype satellites
The launch and testing of Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 are some of the next major milestones in Amazon's system development.
The two satellites are designed to test Amazon's communications and web infrastructure, connecting the company's ground stations in Texas, South America, and the Asia-Pacific region.
"Kuipersat-1 and Kuipersat-2 will include many of the technologies and subsystems that power production versions of our satellite designs — phased arrays and parabolic antennas, power and propulsion systems, custom-designed modems, and more," Amazon said in a blog post.
Amazon also plans to test satellite dishes for early customers at its McCulloch, Texas, location. The company describes the antenna as a "low-cost customer terminal" that will provide "reliable service at a more affordable price than traditional antennas."The company conducted early testing of a prototype device late last year.
The satellites are expected to connect to antennas in Texas for up to four minutes, up to five times a day, according to Amazon documents.
For systems like Kuiper, the impact of a network of hundreds or thousands of satellites has been a fraught topic. Amazon said that similar to the "sunshades" SpaceX added to Starlink's satellites, the two prototype Kuiper satellites "will include a sunshade to help us understand if this is an effective way to reduce reflectivity and thus mitigate its impact on ground-based optical telescopes."
"We will collect data, compare the reflectivity of the two spacecraft and share any insights with the astronomy community after the mission is complete," Amazon said.
In addition, to prevent increasing the risk of space debris in orbit, Amazon stressed that the Kuiper prototype is designed to burn up completely in the atmosphere at the end of its life.