Amazon says its Kuiper satellites aced orbital tests

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network streamed its first video and facilitated its first online sale during a monthlong series of orbital tests that the company says achieved a “100% success rate.”

The performance of the two prototype satellites, known as KuiperSat 1 and 2, validated Amazon’s satellite design and will open the way for mass production to begin in earnest next month at a factory in Kirkland, Wash., said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper.

“It’s been an incredible success for the team, for Kuiper, and partly because everything we did went like clockwork,” Badyal said. “There were no fires to fight, so to speak. In some ways, the team made it look very easy. As you know very well, these things are extremely difficult to do. But everything we built, all the designs are working as designed, and the results we’re getting are nominal or better.”

The prototype satellites were launched into low Earth orbit from Florida on Oct. 6 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and after testing the satellites’ maneuverability, Amazon verified end-to-end network functionality last week. Further tests will be conducted in the months ahead while satellite production ramps up, Amazon said.

Project Kuiper is designed to provide affordable broadband internet access from above for tens of millions of people around the world who are underserved.

It’s been only four years since Kuiper came into the public spotlight — and Amazon is far behind SpaceX’s rival Starlink satellite network, which already has more than 2 million subscribers. But Project Kuiper aims to take advantage of synergies with Amazon’s other business lines, ranging from online retail sales to Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Web Services.

The tests conducted over the past month served as a demonstration of those synergies as well as confirmation that Project Kuiper’s hardware, software and ground-based infrastructure are on the right track.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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