Amazon’s satellite internet system, Project Kuiper, has achieved a significant milestone by demonstrating its ability to maneuver in space using an onboard propulsion system. The progress was reported by Amazon after launching the initial test satellites for Project Kuiper, which aims to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink system.
During the test, two satellites known as KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 were deployed into Earth’s orbit at an altitude beyond 300 miles. The satellites became fully operational on October 16. The successful completion of the test involved the electric propulsion system of the satellites, which utilizes ionized Krypton gas to generate thrust. The results indicate that the satellites are capable of performing various in-space maneuvers, including maintaining orbits, avoiding space debris, and carrying out controlled de-orbiting to safely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere upon mission completion.
The maneuvering capability is crucial to ensure that the satellites do not pose a hazard in orbit. Under the current FCC license, Project Kuiper is authorized to deploy 3,236 orbiting satellites. Amazon emphasized the importance of the custom-built propulsion system in countering natural forces that would otherwise cause the satellites to gradually descend into lower orbits over time. The goal is to operate each satellite securely and reliably within 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) of its designated altitude.
The tests have also revealed that the Kuiper satellites possess maneuvering capabilities similar to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, which utilize their own onboard electric propulsion system. However, Amazon has not yet provided updates on the performance of the Kuiper satellites in delivering high-speed internet to ground receivers. Initial plans from Amazon indicate the expectation of providing broadband connectivity at speeds up to 100Mbps for consumer terminals and 1Gbps for enterprise users.
After concluding the test phase, Amazon plans to de-orbit the test satellites to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The company aims to launch the first production Kuiper satellites in the first half of next year, while beta testing with commercial customers is anticipated for late 2024.