Amazon’s satellite launch schedule puts it almost 4 years behind Starlink


Illustration of a rocket with the Amazon logo rising above the clouds.
Enlarge / Illustration of an ABL RS1 rocket carrying Amazon broadband satellites.

Amazon plans to launch its first broadband satellite prototype in the fourth quarter of 2022, which would be nearly four years after SpaceX launched its first Starlink satellite prototype.

“This morning, we presented a experimental license request with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch, implement and operate two satellite prototypes for the Kuiper Project, “Amazon said in a blog post. “These satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, are an important step in the development process. They allow us to test the communications and networking technology that will be used in the final design of our satellite, and they help us validate the operations of launch and mission management procedures to be used when deploying our entire constellation. “

Amazon said it will launch the satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket, as part of a multi-launch agreement the companies announced today. Amazon’s prototype satellites will operate at an altitude of 590 km.

“While operating under the experimental license, the KuiperSats will communicate with TT&C [telemetry, tracking, and control] Ground stations in South America, the Asia Pacific region and McCulloch, Texas, as well as customer terminal units and a single gateway ground station located in McCulloch, Texas, “Amazon told the FCC.

SpaceX launched prototypes in February 2018

Amazon previously said that it does not expect to launch any satellites until 2023 at the earliest. The expected launch of prototype satellites in the fourth quarter of 2022 does not change that timeline for production satellites, which might not launch until a year or more after trial versions.

SpaceX launched two test satellites for Starlink in February 2018 and its first batch of 60 production satellites in May 2019. Starlink’s public beta began in October 2020, and the service has just exited beta in the last few days. .

If Amazon follows a similar timeline, which is not certain, its first production satellites would launch in late 2023 or early 2024. The actual service would be available in 2025. Amazon has Federal Communications Commission approval for launch 3,236 Low Earth Orbits (LEO). satellites while SpaceX has the approval of almost 12,000.

In its filing with the FCC, Amazon said it is “designing and testing the Kuiper System in an entirely new 219,000-square-foot facility in Redmond, Washington” and “adding another 20,000-square-foot facility to provide additional capacity.” Amazon said it has more than 750 employees working at Kuiper, up from 500 a few months ago, and plans to “add hundreds more to the team next year.”

Orbital test

Amazon explains the test sequence for its satellite prototypes.

Amazon explains the test sequence for its satellite prototypes.

After launching the two planned satellite prototypes, Amazon said it will collect “performance, diagnostic and telemetry data from the satellite bus and payload components” and “collect data from the antennas of its ground stations, including customer terminals. and the gateway and TT&C earth stations. “

Here are some details from Amazon’s FCC filing on how satellites will communicate with user terminals:

The KuiperSats will be equipped with three phased array antennas for customer terminal links: two for transmitting and one for receiving communications. Each of the phased antennas will produce independent steerable beams that will be used to track the customer terminal along a satellite pass. The KuiperSats will transmit multiple 100 MHz wide carriers within the 17.8-18.6 GHz band and receive transmissions from customer terminals in the 28.6-29.1 GHz band. The beams from the customer terminal KuiperSat will be enabled when the satellites are above the minimum elevation angle of 35 degrees of the earth stations at the customer terminal.

“All systems are testing well in simulated and laboratory environments, and we will soon be ready to see how they work in space. There is no substitute for in-orbit testing, and we hope to learn a lot given the complexity and risk of operating in such an environment. challenging, “said Project Kuiper VP of Technology Rajeev Badyal in today’s Amazon announcement.

ABL will be a long-term launch partner

While Amazon doesn’t have its own rockets like SpaceX does, Amazon said it is “impressed by ABL’s unique capabilities” and looks forward to “a long-term relationship” with its recently announced launch partner.

“With a payload capacity of over a ton, RS1 offers the right capacity and cost effectiveness to support our mission profile,” Amazon said. “ABL’s RS1 and GS0 launch systems are also fully containerized and mobile, providing the speed and flexibility to support these first launches. We have been working closely with the ABL team for several months and have already completed two integration design reviews, including plans for a novel adapter design. We will conduct an initial fit check early next year. “


arstechnica.com

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