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Prototype mission of Amazon's Starlink rival a success, Bezos is about to challenge Musk

Jeff Bezos celebrating ULAs Vulcan maiden flight

After years of preparation, Amazon is getting closer to the point where it can compete in the market of global internet connection provided from space. The company is not quite there yet, and it will take a bit more time to achieve, however, the ball is finally rolling.

Just a year ago, the project of Jeff Bezos was in trouble. It has contracted several launch providers, however, all of them were late with their new rockets. Things improved since, though.

Last October, an Atlas V rocket (the only “legacy” rocket contracted by Bezos) launched into space the first pair of prototype satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper constellation, the future rival of SpaceX’s Starlink service which just turned profitable. Since then, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket finally flew for the first time, and Europe’s Ariane 6 is also near its inaugural flight.

All these spacecraft – along with Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn heavy rocket – will be essential for launching Amazon’s satellite mega constellation. Until then, though, let’s focus on what is actually happening in orbit.

Amazon’s tech demonstrators KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 flew into space to give Kuiper engineers some important answers and feedback on their design. Crucially, these tests were successful and the systems performed nominally or better than expected:

“This includes the key systems and subsystems that allow our satellites to operate safely and reliably in space—satellite structures and mechanics, flight computers, propulsion systems, solar power generation and distribution systems, batteries, reaction wheels, and more—as well as the advanced RF communications payload we use to send and receive data through the Kuiper network.

“The mission has also allowed us to validate technology and infrastructure on the ground, including prototypes of our customer terminal; telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) stations located in places like Hawaii and Mauritius; our ground gateway station in Texas; and connection points to the terrestrial internet via Amazon Web Services (AWS).”

Similarly to SpaceX’s Starlink, Kuiper satellites will communicate through infrared lasers, thus creating a giant mesh network in orbit. This communication was also successfully tested.

Now, when Kuiper engineers know what they need, the mission of KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 is fulfilled. Amazon announced that it started the deorbiting process and both spacecraft will burn in the atmosphere.

The process will take several months. The satellites will use their onboard propulsion system to lower their altitude from 500 kilometers (311 miles) to 350 kilometers (217 miles), and then let the atmospheric drag finish the job.

Due to the rising amount of satellites in orbit, there has been a lot of talk about the space junk topic in recent years. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires the satellites to be deorbited within five years of their mission ending, Amazon says it plans to deorbit all of its satellites within a single year.

When finished, the Kuiper constellation will consist of 3,236 satellites, half of which have to be operational by the summer of 2026 to meet the criteria of the license approved by the FCC.

The beta tests of the Kuiper space network are planned for the second half of this year. Early partners like Vodafone and Verizon will be among the first to participate in those service pilots.

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