Mon. Dec 4th, 2023
Amazon’s Project Kuiper Satellites Successfully Maneuver in Orbit

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites, launched a month ago, have successfully demonstrated controlled maneuvering in orbit using their custom-built electric propulsion systems. The recent test firings have provided crucial data to validate the satellite design, with results consistent with the design requirements. This progress indicates that Amazon’s Project Kuiper team, based in Redmond, Washington, is on track to create a 3,236-satellite constellation that aims to provide broadband internet access to millions of people globally.

The two prototypes, KuiperSat 1 and 2, were launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on October 6. These prototypes test the hardware, software, ground-based facilities, and procedures that will be used for the full constellation. Amazon plans to launch the first operational satellites early next year, with beta service for selected enterprise customers potentially starting by the end of 2024.

To meet the requirements of Amazon’s license from the Federal Communications Commission, at least half of the 3,236 satellites must be in orbit by mid-2026. Mass production is set to begin by the end of this year at Amazon’s factory in Kirkland, Washington, eventually reaching a rate of up to four satellites per day.

A crucial aspect of the satellite design is the propulsion system, which enables maneuvering in orbit and a controlled descent into the Earth’s atmosphere at the end of a satellite’s operating life. The Kuiper satellites use in-house developed Hall-effect thrusters powered by solar-generated electric power and krypton propellant. The successful test results of the propulsion system have given the Project Kuiper team confidence in deploying and operating their satellite constellation.

Amazon emphasizes that effective maneuvering capabilities should be included in all satellites flying above 400 kilometers (249 miles) to ensure space safety and sustainability. They also urge satellite operators to share information about spacecraft maneuvers to enhance safety and predictability in low Earth orbit.

Although Project Kuiper is behind SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellite network, which already has over 2 million subscribers, Amazon is making significant progress. Starlink satellites, manufactured at SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Washington, also use Hall-effect thrusters, but with the propellant switched from krypton to argon for cost-efficiency in their “V2 Mini” satellites.