Amazon prepares for the first launch of Project Kuiper satellites | ET REALITY


In a space race between two companies started by Jeff Bezos, it looks like his e-commerce company, Amazon, will surpass his rocket company, Blue Origin, into orbit.

Two prototype Amazon satellites sit atop an Atlas V rocket at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. They are part of Project Kuiper, a communications constellation that will eventually be made up of more than 3,200 satellites. It will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink and other space internet services.

The rocket is scheduled to lift off no earlier than 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday. During the two hours in which the launch could occur, the forecasts give a 70 percent chance for a favorable climate. The launch will be broadcast live on United Launch Alliance YouTube Channelrocket owner.

After launch, the pair of Amazon satellites will orbit 311 miles above the Earth’s surface. After deployment of the solar panels and testing of the spacecraft’s systems, the satellites will beam Internet connections from space to the company’s flat, square antennas for consumers on the ground.

“This is the first time Amazon has put satellites in space and we are going to learn a lot regardless of how the mission unfolds,” Rajeev Badyal, vice president of Project Kuiper technology at Amazon, said in a company statement. .

Amazon is building satellites and Bezos’ other company is building rockets, so why doesn’t one fly over the other? This is because Blue Origin has not yet launched anything into orbit.

Although its New Shepard suborbital space tourist rocket has made many flights, the New Glenn rocket it has been developing for more than a decade to put payloads like the Kuiper satellites into orbit is at least three years behind schedule. Its debut flight is planned for next year.

In April of last year, Amazon announced a mammoth purchase of up to 83 launches, the largest commercial purchase of rocket launches ever made. That includes 27 from Blue Origin and the rest from two other companies, Arianespace of France and United Launch Alliance of the United States. The contracts with the other companies also rely on new rockets that have not yet flown: Arianespace’s Ariane 6 and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.

Amazon also previously announced that it would purchase nine launches of the venerable Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance. Atlas V has flown for more than two decades, but is being retired because it relies on Russian-made rocket engines.

The two satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, comprise what Amazon calls the Protoflight mission for Kuiper. They were planned to travel as payload for the first launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket in May. But during a test of a Vulcan upper stage, a hydrogen leak ignited into a fireball. In July, Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, said the company was working on a solution and that Vulcan’s first flight was still expected before the end of the year.

In August, Amazon announced that it was changing rockets, from the Vulcan to an Atlas V. That was the second rocket change for the Protoflight. Amazon originally planned to launch KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 on smaller rockets from ABL Space Systems, but ABL has also experienced delays.

Officials from Blue Origin, Arianespace and United Launch Alliance have said they expect to meet the Kuiper launch schedule.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates terrestrial satellite communications, approved Amazon’s network in 2020. It gave the company a deadline to launch half of its 3,236 satellites by July 2026, with the full constellation to be deployed in July 2029.

A pension fund that owns Amazon shares sued Amazon in August for not buying any launches from SpaceX, which has launched Falcon 9 rockets 70 times this year and has contracts with other competitors to its Starlink service.

The complaint, filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, says Amazon’s board of directors approved the launch contracts after cursory reviews and took no steps to protect Amazon from conflicts of interest for Bezos as owner of Blue Origin. and also for the CEO of Amazon at the time.

“For a year and a half, Bezos was free to identify and negotiate with launch suppliers for Amazon, while at the same time he was free to negotiate against Amazon on behalf of Blue Origin,” the lawsuit says.

Blue Origin will not only provide New Glenn launches to Amazon, but also profits from Vulcan launches, because United Launch Alliance is purchasing Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines to power the propulsion stage of the Vulcan rockets.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement: “The claims in this lawsuit are completely baseless and we look forward to proving this through the legal process.”

The lawsuit also summarized years of animosity between Bezos and Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX.

“Given his sour track record, Bezos had every reason to completely exclude Musk’s SpaceX from the process,” the lawsuit says. “And you have to assume that Bezos couldn’t swallow his pride to seek help from his bitter rival to launch Amazon’s satellites.”

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